Dear Bob ...
I have a reputation here for being a good writer. That's a problem, because I probably get 20 interruptions a week from friends and acquaintances that begin, "You're a good writer. I need to ..." followed by "send an important e-mail," "write a short report," "summarize some information," or some other minor task that involves putting words together in ways that are persuasive and easily understood.
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Then I'm trapped. I'm supposed to be a team player, which means helping out and pitching in. None of the requests are big ... mostly, they're tasks I can knock out in 10 or 15 minutes.
But I'm also supposed to do my own work, and while I'm not overworked, my manager does give me enough to do that I can easily stay busy without doing work for my teammates they're supposed to be doing for themselves.
Any thoughts on how I can say no without being branded as an unhelpful jerk?
- Unhelpful jerk
Dear Doormat ...
I can think of several. But first, a short essay on why you're right to be concerned:
Businesses are social environments, and business society divides people into two categories: those who delegate and those who are delegated to. Those who delegate are considered upwardly mobile leaders and valuable members of society. Those who are delegated to are considered grunts, the great unwashed, or at best "skilled laborers" who are valuable where they are and should be grateful to have employment.
It's a sad-but-true reflection of modern society that being highly skilled at an identifiable craft is considered a second-rate competency when compared to being a manager. If you don't believe me, listen to a group of business managers grousing because a sports figure makes millions of dollars a year. What's their complaint? Someone has the gall to be paid CEO-level compensation for doing actual, highly skilled work that persuades customers to pay for tickets.
Which brings us to your plight: Your colleagues are, consciously, unconsciously, or as an unintended side effect, trying to turn you into one-who-is-delegated-to and themselves into one-who-delegates.
You're right to understand that Just Saying No is a poor alternative. That's because it's confrontational, which is considered bad form in most business environments.
Here's what you can do instead: