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Career Limiting Moves – Saying No

IT departments get a lot of flak because members are accused of saying no to what staff think are perfectly reasonable requests.

In this second post of my series about career limiting moves, I’m going to tell you about the time I told someone no and immediately regretted it.

My second full-time job, after working in a call centre, was in a technical support role. I didn’t have my driver’s licence yet, so I was based out of the head office. My job was to make sure the network was running, software was kept up to date, consultants’ laptops ran properly, and so on.

The same large customer from last week’s post had a Microsoft Access database system that was written when 16-bit Windows was the big kid on the block. I’d offered to convert the VBA code in the database to 32-bit, so that it could run on Windows NT 3.51 and Windows NT 4 on servers, as well as Windows 98 on the desktop.

My immediate boss was a director in the company, and I had been told on several occasions that it was a flat structure. We all socialised as equals, so I never paid much attention to reporting lines.

My boss told me to work on this Access database upgrade, and say no to anyone I considered a distraction. I took that to heart.

Another director of the company had some issue or other with her laptop that was affecting her ability to work and generate income for the business. You know: her job. She came to me and said, “I need your help with this problem”, and of course I said, “I’ve been told that I cannot have any distractions while working on this Access project”.

My job was to provide technical support to a senior staff member, and I said no because I was busy on something that was, for all intents and purposes, not as important.

This was of course escalated very quickly to the managing director, who in turn shouted at my boss, who in turn shouted at me. If I recall correctly, my boss eventually helped his colleague with her important problem and only reamed me out after the fact.

The moral of the story is that my priority list is meaningless to other people. It’s all very well saying no to a customer, and in my trade everyone I offer a service to is a customer. I have to be very sure that if I do say no, I’ve made that decision based on a clear understanding of the customer’s needs, not just my impressions.