Etiquette-ful Responses When a
Request Feels Unreasonable

Considering an Unreasonable Request

Being requested to accomplish tasks or projects in our professional and personal lives is expected. When someone “asks,” the request seems reasonable to the person who is asking. The “asker” might also express appreciation and this is why it’s sometimes hard to say no even when the request seems “too much.” The person asking may not have a clue about your busy schedule and prior commitments even within the organization.

When a request feels unreasonable it may be that too much outside preparation is called for. Perhaps it feels presumptuous, or you might think it is not your place to perform the task at all. However, you can still respond in an etiquette-ful manner, no matter what your answer is.

Civility, as the cumulative word for the vision for a civil society, calls us to be kind, and as direct as possible as honest persons. These are our marching orders. And it’s always good to be etiquette-ful in the workplace.

Finding the Best Answer for You

When considering your answer to a request, ask yourself the following questions to help drill down whether the request is reasonable for you and how challenging it may be. Your answers to these questions will help you discover how you feel about what is being asked of you and, therefore, the best answer for you.

  • What exactly is being asked of you?
  • What is your relationship with the person asking?
  • Is information up to date about what the task entails?
  • Are there better alternatives that could meet the goal intended?
  • Are your boundaries clear?

When You Decide to Go Along with an Unreasonable Request

  • Acknowledge the person’s confidence in you.
  • Clarify what you understand you are expected to accomplish and ask for verification.
  • Amplify that due to your workload, the earliest the task can be completed.
  • Suggest modifications if needed before you begin.

When Declining a Request

Whatever the form of “No” takes, being tactful and professional should have this look:

  • Express appreciation for the opportunity to acknowledge that the request was made.
  • Within tactfulness, be honest and clear with the valid reason(s) why you can’t fulfil the ask, including your current workload.
  • If you have an alternative suggestion, offer it.
  • Imagine what the impact of your response might be and acknowledge the importance of what is being attempted.
  • You may want to follow up to see if there is any assistance you can offer within reason.

Addressing requests that feels unreasonable requires diplomacy and good will, which always embraces etiquette-fulness. Listening actively and empathetically to others’ perspectives and concerns is a very reasonable request for yourself!

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