Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Why It’s Important To Be Able To Say 'No' To the Boss

If you were the boss in a perfect world, everything you want done would be completed on time. In an imperfect world with only 24 hours and never-ending demands of clients, employees, legislators, bosses, etc., something will slip through the crack or be delayed. While it seems clear communication should fix it, it doesn’t. It’s straight communication without consequences that creates order out of chaos. 

In many organizations, unexpected delays come as no surprise. The culture of communication between the boss and subordinates is set up to
do just that. For example, if you’re the boss and your people cannot say ‘no’ to your requests, you may be creating a ‘yes-man’ culture. In that culture, people say ‘yes’ because they fear the consequences if they say ‘no’. People who can only say ‘yes’ are powerless. As a result, they say ‘yes’ to survive in the workplace. Worst of all, when people say ‘yes’ and know there will be delays, they spend the rest of their time making up a good story for why the task was not completed on time. 

If companies can accept the fact that there are only 24 hours in a day and not everything will be completed, that provides a realistic platform from which to operate. Second, in that 24-hour period, there are many competing tasks demanding for immediate attention. Therefore, the boss must empower her people. She has to give them the possibility of honestly saying ‘no’.

If you structure communication between everyone with promises and requests, you will have a realistic understanding of constraints and priorities. Furthermore, your people will feel a sense of freedom and power in their professional lives.

The structure is as follows. If someone (anyone) makes a request, the recipient of the request can respond in 3 ways:
  1. Yes, I will complete ‘X’ by the date you requested (Tuesday at 3:00pm).
  2. No, I decline your request.
  3. I would like to make a counter offer. I cannot complete it by Tuesday at 3:00pm. I can have it by Wednesday at 10:00am.

Requests have to be made in time – Tuesday by 3:00pm. If the person agrees, there will be little need for discussion between the request date and Tuesday at 3:00pm. They have just made a promise to honor your request. In that environment, everyone understands they are to honor their word as themselves – my word is my bond.

When they are allowed to say ‘no’, there can be no negative consequences for the person. If there are repercussions, the entire system falls apart. And the ‘yes-man’ culture comes alive. When your people can say ‘no’, you will know they are being straight with you.

When they can make a counter offer, there can be a negotiation. It may also force you to restructure priorities and resources.

As a side, when people have complaints, you can listen for the hidden request or promise. In every complaint there is a desire for action. If someone comes into your office with a complaint, you can ask him or her if they are willing to be responsible for handling the problem. If so, they are coming into your office to ask you to accept their promise to fix the issue. If that is the case, problem solved, as long as there are clear agreements. On the other hand, they may be complaining as a request for someone else to handle the problem. If that is the case, you can ask: I hear your complaint about ‘X’. Do you have a specific request?  

When promises and requests are a part of your company’s culture, it becomes easier to count on one another. As this structure gains momentum, people’s commitment increases and they go the extra mile because they know they have a choice.

What do you think? I’m open to ideas. Or if you want to write me about a specific topic, let me know.


  1. It is actually a nice and useful piece of information.
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    1. You're welcome and thank you for reading my blog. Glad to hear the information was useful.


  2. Hello, I read your articles now and then and I was wondering, what do you think of the job market a decade from now? I feel that getting a degree means basically nothing anymore. A degree is just a requirement, but never a guarantee for a job. Many fields are becoming over saturated. Now you need good networking skills as well as a degree, which I think is unfair. Why should someone, who is perfectly fit for the job, be disadvantaged just because someone else has a better gift of gab?

    1. Thanks for reading my blog, Anna. You raised 2 great points here - education and networking. As for education, I wrote an article which distinguishes between being educated and having an education http://is.gd/3PmYBC. You raise a good point. College education is going through a significant transformation. While there are a number of famous people who have been successful without college degrees, they are still educated. The university system is trying to figure out what role it will play in ensuring people are educated, instead of forcing students to memorize someone else's facts and figures. Yet, our societal structure demands that we have specialized knowledge. Without it, finding a job becomes a greater effort. If you look at the founders of Apple, Facebook and Microsoft, they demanded their employees have degrees. If you want to be an entrepreneur, you still need to be educated about something regardless of whether or not you have a degree. Therefore, a decade from now it would seem that universities will do everything possible to ensure their survival, including leveraging relationships with legislators. At the same time, there will be more of a virtual presence for education. That way the best professors and practitioners - business people, scientists, lawyers, doctors, etc. - will teach around the world and students will learn to collaborate virtually. Hopefully students will be given the opportunity to think and create instead of just memorizing something else's knowledge.

      As for networking, I assert that it is less about the gift of gab. People want to hire individuals who have people skills. It requires people skills to get things done through others. Success is about workability - people who know how to make things work. The ability to network is a way to demonstrate that.

      I look forward to your response.

    2. Thanks for your response!
      So, will the job market be more competitive? How are you supposed to get better people/networking skills? Do you happen to know any good books or sites about networking?
      Thanks again.

    3. The workforce will become more competitive. You are no longer just competing with your neighbor. You are competing with people in India, Brazil, Australia, France... After WWII, the rest of the world was putting itself together. The US was the world's supplier. The world has become increasingly complex. Furthermore, what happens in Sri Lanka could affect you. At the same time, there are going to be many more entrepreneurs in the future. To be an entrepreneur, you will definitely need people skills. And you will need to be educated in such a way that you create knowledge for others to learn.

      As far as networking, sometimes guys have the advantage. We are accustomed to approaching women. Networking is no different. However, when you approach those to whom you want to speak, distinguish yourself from others. Most people network hoping to get something. If you have something valuable to offer others, even if it is knowledge or information, people will remember you. Ask people what they need. Ask about their vision and whether or not they have the resources to accomplish it. Ask about the obstacles they could encounter while pursuing that vision, where the gaps exist and what they will need to bridge those gaps. And you cannot do this hoping something will come back to you. You have to become a resource for others - the go to person. And networking like anything else requires practice, practice, practice.

      Good books for networking: You could read Never Eat Alone. Except, I would suggest you read books that make you more valuable, like Blue Ocean Strategy. Read books that alter your thinking and make you a valuable resource. Caution: Do not try to become the smartest person in the room. That eventually backfires.

      Good luck,

      Ted Santos

  3. Ted:

    Have you ever met a consultant named Toby? Many of your blog posts are very consistent with some of his talks. Conversations for action, honoring commitments, the power of networks and surrounding yourself with other successful people. Of course, these are also some of the basic moves of good business.

    Just curious.

    1. Hi Benjamin,

      It sounds like you have read a number of my articles. Thank you for that. I do not know Toby. What's his last name and where is he located?