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“That’s Not My Job”: The 4 Worst Words You Can Say in Business

01.19.16   |   Job Search & Career   |   Chelsey Canavan, Marketing Manager at Treeline, Incorporated

That's not my job“That’s not my job”…the four worst words you can say in business…and possibly in life.

At one time or another, we may have all found ourselves in the position where someone is asking something of us that doesn’t fall under our “job description” and our immediate response is “that’s not my job.” And I mean, if you think about it, it probably isn’t under your direct list of responsibilities…but if you really think about it, is it really not your job? And more importantly is that the right response?

Yes, I know what you may be thinking, that you work at a very big company that has all sorts of departments to handle every sort of thing that may come up. Whether it’s an HR question, a Customer Support question, an IT question, or a Sales question you have someone to deal with the issue, right? That’s why those departments are there, to provide structure and efficiency.

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And what about small businesses and start-ups that may not have that same organizational chart in place, is that response sufficient?

When you work for a small company that is growing, it feels like everything is your job…and truthfully it is. You will in fact wear many hats. Not all will be pleasant and some may be very time consuming or tedious. You will have your core set of responsibilities and a goal you should work towards every day. When you are building a company, you are in the thick of it. Don’t lose focus of your main objective but be open to “making something your job.” It’s a chance to learn and experience different areas of a company that you may not normally get to at a bigger company. During the delegation of responsibilities you will be able to recognize when it is time to hire a priority position to help with those additional tasks.

So whether we work at a big or a small company, why is “that’s not my job” our automatic response?

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In truth, that may be the natural response because we don’t have time for the extra work, or it’s too much of a deterrence from our main responsibilities, or there is someone in fact better to address the project or concern. There are only so many hours in the day and our plate may already be full. However, it’s important to catch yourself from equating your salary and hours of work to your job description. If you do, you will not only be limiting your own success, but that of the company’s as well. Rather than say “that’s not my job,” offer a solution.

Here are some examples when you may want to say “that’s not my job” but could offer a different response.

  • Are you not the right person to address the problem?  Is there someone more equipped to do so?

Let them know you aren’t the best person to answer the question. Point that person in the right direction to who they should talk to.

  • Do you not have the time to take on a new project?

Explain that you normally would love to participate but have a hard deadline with another project that is your main focus.

  • Do you honestly not know the answer to the question someone is asking for help with?

Be honest, let them know you aren’t sure, and maybe offer a suggestion as to who may be able to direct them the right way.

  • Is someone asking you to do something because they think it would be beneficial to you to be involved, but you see it as a distraction?

Recognize the invitation to be involved, but that it may in fact be too much of a distraction that it takes away from your most important responsibility and that you couldn’t give it the attention and commitment you would like to.

  • Are you normally the person that gets “stuck” with extra work and has become the go-to person for any issue in the company?

Divide and Conquer. Talk to your Manager and other team members and see if you can delegate the tasks who can help spilt up the additional responsibilities.

  • Are you being asked the same question over-and-over again by multiple people?

Don’t let the frustration build up. Get creative. Create a document as a “go-to” or FAQ resource that answers common internal questions or list appropriate contacts for those inquiries.

  • Did someone come over and interrupt your work groove asking for help with something “important, but you don’t have the time to immediately stop what you’re doing?

Don’t be afraid to qualify the importance of the issue to first determine if you are the correct person to help. Then ask them how important it is and if it can be addressed later in the day? This will give you and your team members a sense of prioritizing “important” matters.

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No matter where we are in life or what we are doing in our careers, there are going to be those moments you just want to shout “that’s not my job.” Trust me, I’ve been there. I've actually learned that it is okay to say "No" and is sometimes for the better. However, before you respond, try thinking about it differently by offering a different response and solution. Recognize you may be seen as a leader who people lean on for direction. Trust in your ability to empower yourself and delegate responsibility. And most importantly, be okay with “making it your job,” but recognizing when it is too much of a distraction.

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