The Power of No

It is OK to say no. As a manager, you are allowed to say no. In fact, sometimes it is absolutely imperative that you do say no.

It is surprisingly easy to do once you’ve given yourself permission. I learned this years ago when I was in charge of the company’s car fleet. One day, an employee caught me in the corridor and started on about how he felt that he deserved a bigger and better model. Normally I would have been the nice manager and taken time to explain to him what the current car policy was, the reasons why the car fleet was limited, how I had no other models available, etc., but that day I was in a bad mood. He was the last in a long line of people making big issues over small things so he received a one-word reply from me: ‘No’.

And his response? He said ‘OK’ and left, seemingly happy with my answer. I remember standing there somewhat stunned, regretting all the time I had wasted on long explanations when a simple ‘no’ would have sufficed.

Saying no is a balancing act. Too much is bad, too little is bad, and it will take experimentation, time and experience to learn what is appropriate in each context. But if you long to be a nice manager, I would hazard a guess that you don’t say no enough. In fact, ditch the attempt to be a manager who is liked; it’s impossible. There will be times when you have to implement things that even you do not like – redundancies, reorganisations, pet projects being shelved. Your aim as a manager should be to be respected for being fair, honest, approachable, and for making, and communicating, the tough decisions. Once you are respected, liking will follow as a consequence.

A few examples where no is definitely required:

  • When staff exaggerate comments to be dramatic and make a point. They will say something like ‘But customers always complain about x’ or ‘That will never work’. The key words here are ‘always’ and ‘never’ as these are rarely true statements. Do not accept the statement at face value but go back and ask them to rethink their position. Start by quietly saying ‘Always? What do you mean by always? Can you be more precise? Exactly what proportion?’.
  • Other staff do the opposite. Instead of making something appear more than it is and dramatising a point, they make it smaller and minimise it. Something happens, and they dismiss it by saying ‘Well, it does not matter’ and this is where you can quietly, yet firmly, correct them by saying ‘Yes, it does’.
  • Then there are staff who say something incorrect, but with such authority that it seems to be right. Do not be afraid to say ‘No, I have to disagree with you there’ or ‘That does not match my memory of the event’, or the stronger statement of, ‘No, I know that to be incorrect’.

The secret with all these ‘no’ statements is to make them with a calm, neutral, factual tone of voice whilst communicating strength and relaxation through your body language.

Be the strong manager. Say no. Do this fairly and consistently and your staff will like you all the more for it.

To find out how Converse Well can help you turn difficult feedback situations into opportunities to motivate and engage your staff, call 020 8870 9036 or 07734 944 515 or email