The New York Times' Shifting Careers column interviews Peggy Klaus, author of The Hard Truth About Soft Skills and noted proponent of the power of blogging, about the "soft skills" that everyone—especially the productivity-obsessed among us—can use occasional coaching on. Among the questions is one that any freelancer or over-scheduled office worker has probably pondered: How do you tell a boss or an important client that you can't tackle a project, whether due to deadlines, preferences, or nearly any other reason. Klaus' response:
The key is to express your interest and appreciate that they've asked you, making sure to leave the door open for some time in the future. Also, express that it would not be good for either of you if you took on the project. If the person asking is your boss, sit down and show a list of things you are already doing and ask for some help prioritising where this new project fits in.
Your requesters' personality, and therefore your mileage, will vary, of course, but the point about expressing that the project wouldn't be good for either party is a point well taken. How do you turn down an assignment without burning a bridge? Share some tips in the comments.