How to say “No” to your boss

And not get fired…..

Even better, not only not get fired, but make you boss appreciate you even more. For many people this seems wrong. Surely bosses want people who are willing to take stuff on? How can saying “No” make them happy with you?

OK, here’s the thinking:

Bosses want stuff to get done. But more importantly they want it done right and on time. This is not for fun. Your business exists to serve your customers. To quote Gandhi:

“A customer is the most important visitor on our premises. He is not dependent on us. We are dependent on him. He is not an interruption in our work.

He is the purpose of it. He is not an outsider in our business. He is part of it. We are not doing him a favour by serving him. He is doing us a favour by giving us an opportunity to do so.”

Remember that you boss’s job is to make this happen, and your job it to help them do it, and to do it consistently. So how do the two of you together keep a customer happy? At its simplest: just do what you said you were going to do.

Nothing frustrates a customer more than a broken promise. Customers are in general pretty tolerant. The rider is that you have to be straight with them up front and deliver on your promises.

A customer might not be too happy to find that they are going yo have to wait a week for their product or service. However, this is nothing compared to the unhappiness of a customer who has been given an unrealistic delivery deadline which is then missed.

Learning from this, the key lesson is:

Make sure that you can do what you take on. Coming back to the the idea of not wanting to say “No” to you boss, I would ask you one question: “What happens if you keep saying yes to every request your boss makes“.

What happens is this: your boss keeps giving you more work.

It’s obvious, isn’t it. And it’s not because your boss is a bad person or is out to deliberately swamp you with work, it’s that they are not psychic.

If you smile and accept their latest assignment, how will they know that you are snowed under and struggling to deliver the work that you already have.?

Unless you are some kind of superhero with unlimited powers, what will happen is that you end up with more work than you can actually deliver in the time that you have.

The result? You become unhappy and frustrated, because as a good employee you really want to do a good job and you now can’t.

The knock-on effect is that your unhappiness and frustration makes you less productive at a time when you need to be more productive, your boss becomes unhappy and your customers become unhappy. And all because you were trying to please.

Saying “No” nicely. We are all human beings and have feelings. Put yourself in your boss’s shoes. Think about how you would like to be told that a person can’t take on the task that you need doing.

After all, you are trying to help, not start a what is sometimes described as “a frank exchange of views“.

From experience the following points can take the sting out of the situation:

  • Take time to talk with them. Stop what you are doing, make eye contact and listen to what they are saying
  • Be honest with yourself. Are you really saying “No” because you are too busy or are you just using it as an excuse. Believe me, if it is the latter you will be found out at some stage. Don’t do it!
  • Propose alternatives. If you can’t do it now, when could you do it? Tomorrow? Next Week? How about suggesting someone else who could also do it. Another alternative is to re-schedule someone else’s work to accommodate the new request.

Often the outcome is that you boss will simply go and find someone else to do the work. This is a great result. However sometimes you simply do have to knuckle down and fit it in somehow.

If that happens, and it does happen in business, at least you have put down a marker that you are fully occupied and cannot keep accommodating work requests without there being consequences.

Saying “No” will probably seem strange at first but my experience is that it quickly pays dividends for both you and your boss and, ultimately, will give you happier customers. What’s not to like about that?

And finally

Did you find this post interesting? Would you like to say something about it? Please don’t hesitate to leave a comment or start a discussion.


Bob Windmill

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