Recognizing your own value - and your limits, because saying NO needs to be learned!

Edition 1 | Newsletter 14 September 2021

When it comes to recognizing your own value, one of the biggest challenges for many assistants is learning how to say "no". Especially for young assistants, who are entering the work force for the very first time, this is not an easy task. Naturally, an assistant’s aim is, as the job title implies, to help everyone. We are constantly under the impression that we cannot reject any demands.

Most times, the reason lies therein, that a senior manager has an urgent request. Sometimes, we get "ambushed" with urgent tasks in the hallway and end up accepting before we can evaluate our answer. In the long run, this leads to an unhealthy workload. In hindsight, we often think "I wish I had said no."

We often bring this all upon ourselves. Of course, there are exceptions; the report for the management must still be reviewed and finalized. Logically, we do not always have a choice in that regard.

Simply put, certain tasks have no place in today's work environment, and you must first experience some unpleasant and bizarre situations before you can find out, where your limits lie.

Team Assistant Florence experienced this in an uncomfortable and rather non-professional way during her first internship at an American company based in Switzerland. Her egocentric supervisor, who spent the week flying back and forth between various European locations, was often unavailable to anyone in the entire office, not replying to emails for days. Often, this was the cause for difficulties in getting work done on time. The situation worsened, when his monthly expense reports started containing discrepancies. At the beginning, it was just the classic "midnight champagne" along with room service, followed by large purchases at Prada and Chanel with the company’s credit card. Once Florence gathered all her courage to get to the bottom of the issue by addressing her supervisor privately. His response was a dismissive hand gesture and Florence was asked to declare the expenses as customer gifts.

Prior to Christmas, the supervisor handed Florence the company's credit card and told her to purchase a nice Christmas gift from one of the many luxury fashion labels residing on the Bahnhofstrasse in Zurich. This was another red flag for Florence, who was definitely in over her head.

Nevertheless, it was her first real job, so she wanted to do everything right. That is why she carried out the job, even with a bad feeling.

During the annual office Christmas festivities, while speaking to the superior’s wife, Florence mentioned her husband’s good taste in fashion, referring to the gift that she bought in her superior’s name a few days prior. His wife, being completely taken by surprise, said that she never received it. Florence had not purchased the gift for his wife, but for his mistress.

In retrospect, Florence would have been better off listening to her instincts.

Nevertheless, learning how to decline a request, is not an easy task. It takes time, patience and some experience.

The next time someone from the office is ambushing you with a task, or you are in a situation where you have a bad feeling about a task, listen to your instincts and say no!

There is a German idiom for this: “In the beginning, you need courage to have a happy ending”.