Why you should say no to your boss!

Posted on February 23, 2017 by Heather

We’ve all been there. A late night call from the boss asking for something to be done by the next morning. Our heart sinks –there goes the plan to box set with a beer, but we say yes anyway.

Hang on a second. Why on earth are we saying yes to something that is essentially unreasonable?

Although I’m guilty of having said “yes” to a variety of demands in my career, I’ve actually started to be a bit more picky about the things I say yes to, even when they come from clients or my boss.

What changed for me?

The further up the career ladder I progressed, the more I began to realize than unreasonable demands are often a direct result of other people being disorganized and short sighted.

The key is to take the time to understand what’s really going on, and react accordingly.

Making a demand for something, out of the blue, and imposing an unrealistic deadline on someone because you have woken up at the last minute and suddenly remembered about said deadline is unacceptable.

Asking someone to help with something urgently, when the deadline is really not in your control, may be a different story. Who doesn’t want to help out when a sudden (exciting) business pitch literally falls from the sky?

However, even if we dig into motivation, and prepare our response accordingly, saying no, particularly to someone more senior than us, can still be challenging, for a number of reasons :

The cultural bias

Many cultures have complex reasons for not saying “no”, or at least not saying no overtly. In certain Asian cultures, the concept of “saving face” is critical – you cannot ever appear to disagree with the boss, so you need to find surreptitious ways to avoid doing the work. In India it is less about saving face and more about a preference to say yes to everything. You’d rather say yes, even when you mean no, and save the wrath for later.

“The boss is always right”

By definition, it is not possible to be always right, and though experience does bring with it a fair amount of learned wisdom, the likelihood of becoming infallible the minute you get a promotion is clearly the stuff of fantasy. The best bosses are the ones who admit they can still get it wrong, and who are prepared to take feedback on board, however many years of working they’ve clocked up.

The people pleasers

Are you a perpetual people pleaser? Many of us desire to be liked, to fit in, and to avoid ruffling feathers. The need to conform and “follow the leader” develops in teenage years, when it is oh so important to be part of the gang. Once we leave these difficult years behind, and mature emotionally, we are supposed to become more assertive. Some of us struggle with this, and play out the deferential role in the workplace, doing everything to keep those around us happy. It might seem that someone who says yes all the time is a great employee but actually, this can be irritating especially if it comes along with the need for constant affirmation.

Women being superwomen

Experts say women are more likely to be people pleasers. It’s due to the fact that oestrogen encourages bonding and connection, while testosterone can make men more confident, limiting their need to please. Women are also often raised to be caregivers, and that can extend into adult life. Add to that the pressure of “having it all” and it’s hardly surprising that we want to say yes to everything and everyone, to maintain that façade of being superwoman. It’s time we accepted that it is OK to be human, to say no to friends, family and the boss.

The cult of approval

The desire to say no, or disagree with popular opinion, is exacerbated by the need to collect “likes” on social media. Our self worth is measured by clicks, and being publicly appreciated is a global obsession. It’s time to stop agreeing with everything and everyone to score points. Social media can be great, but not if we use it as a tool to manipulate the way others see us.

If we find ourselves saying yes to everything and everyone, let’s understand why, and figure out ways to change that script. Let’s say no to the boss, when his or her requests are unrealistic. Of course there’s a way to say no without gaining a reputation as someone who is “too difficult” in the workplace, so dig deep for constructive alternative solutions which can keep both parties happy.

Do you have any experience of saying “no” to the boss, with positive results?

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