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The right way to say no to your boss

You’ve just been promoted to manager and can’t find enough hours in the day to cope with the new workload.  Now your boss has approached you about another piece of work that has to be completed by the end of the week.

So, what do you do? By saying yes, you will be taking on yet another job that could impact your deadlines on at least two other projects – one of which you have already reluctantly agreed to do in the first place.

But by saying no, you worry that you will be disappointing your boss and that she might regret making that promotion in the first place.

A typical situation at work, but it goes a bit deeper than that. If you’re a ‘yes person’, then you’re most likely to be a people pleaser at heart. You probably feel good about helping others you are close to (whether it’s your family or your boss), and saying no is a confrontation that you’d rather not risk.

The problem with always saying yes is it can quickly become a recipe for overwhelming stress as you struggle to complete all the tasks you’ve taken on.  In time, you’ll begin to feel very resentful towards your manager for constantly asking you to do more.

So, what motivates yes people to say it so often, when really the answer can be no?

Dr. Brené Brown has spent over two decades studying shame, empathy and vulnerability. Brown believes that we often don’t set boundaries in our lives due to the fear and shame of showing ourselves as vulnerable to those around us, affecting our relationships. Humans have a deep need to feel connected with those around them, so by saying yes we are ‘saving face’ by not admitting we don’t have time. In her viral TED talk she says, “shame is the fear of disconnection” – if I tell my boss I can’t fit this extra job in, I will be seen as not worthy of my job.

So how can you say no in a positive way?

One way of thinking about it is aligning intentions. If you can align your intention before speaking to your boss about your concerns, then what could be a difficult conversation is likely to go much better.

You want to be able to do the piece of work, you just simply do not have the time and you are worried that this will affect your productivity and quality of your work. Your boss will see this and be more positive about the rejection of the task and open to alternative suggestions.

An article by Marlene Chism explores the importance of aligning our intentions as a way of approaching difficult conversations. If your response is handled with an intention to find ways to work together, Chism argues you will immediately be open to alternative solutions rather than projecting judgement or anger in your response.

We go into this in more detail in our BiteSize tip here.

So next time you need to say no, remember these tips:

  • Think about the reason why you are saying no in the first place
  • Use this to find the outcome both parties want, i.e. the job to be done well – this is your aligned intention
  • Use this as a common target for both you and your boss while having the conversation in order to reduce conflict and ensure you’re on a path which you can travel together.

You can learn more about dealing with difficult conversations effectively and other personal effectiveness topics by viewing our courses here.

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