It’s kind of weird following up a webinar on likability (SLIDES are here) with insight on how to say “no” at work. But even likable leaders have to say “no” and say it often.
Disagreeing with a decision, or direction (especially when coming from above), carries risk. If not done properly, your well-thought out arguments cause you to be labelled as “negative” or “not a team player” or “difficult” or worse. But there’s MUCH more risk in not speaking up.
The underlying idea behind this is to affirm the person, grow the relationship, AND express your misgivings about the decision or directive.
There is so much skill in agreeably disagreeing. That is why Winston Churchill took the time to say things like…
Tact is the ability to tell someone to go to hell in such a way that they look forward to the trip. Diplomacy is the art of telling people to go to hell in such a way that they ask for directions.Winston Churchill
Disagreeing with your boss
In case you suspect that your boss is on the wrong limb of the decision tree, you can make it less tricky to confront by asking permission to share your thoughts. “I think this is an ill-advised decision and I would like to share my reasons. However, if you don’t want to hear my thinking on this decision, I’ll fully support your move.”
Saying “no” nicely isn’t easy for most of us.
This HBR article by Joseph Grenny addresses saying “no” at work without making enemies. The main idea is to share how you came to your conclusion, rather than simply rejecting a proposal. Of course sounds perfectly logical, not to mention obvious, but when you’re in a crunch and the spotlight is blinding, it’s easy to overlook that other people aren’t reading your thoughts very accurately (or even listening carefully, for that matter.)
Show Them Your Homework
Nobody likes to disappoint people and certain factors, like being new on the job or having an insecure boss, can add unwanted drama to a business decision. There is good reason that the character, Michael Scott, from The Office, has such a following.
My favorite suggestion from Grenny’s article is to Acknowledge the trade off. Every hard decision involves rejecting at least one real or potential gain in order to accept another real or possible gain. Or you please one set of stakeholders, say employees, at the expense of stockholders. Spelling out the wins and losses for different groups and scenarios lets your audience know how you came to your conclusion and that you are aware of the trade-off(s).
It’s tempting to keep your mouth shut. Don’t do it. We need your ideas and we need to hammer out our disagreements, not bully people into silence.