How to say “no” to your boss
Being accepted while asserting oneself in the workplace
By Angela Civitella
The word “negotiation” conjures up images of high-pressure situations, where people have a lot to lose if they get things wrong.
In fact, you probably negotiate several times each day. You do it at home and at work for all sorts of things, from deciding what to make for dinner, to settling on terms for a job promotion.
Because of this, you are a negotiator, even if you don’t think of yourself as one! But how well do you negotiate? Do you know how to recognize situations where negotiating is appropriate? And do you understand the elements of an effective negotiation?
Here below, we’ll discuss some of the fundamentals of negotiating successfully, so that you can meet your needs without causing conflict when you do have to say “no”.
Some people view negotiation as a game they have to win. They use “hard” negotiation tactics, and this often leaves one party very satisfied and the other side with no choice but to agree.
Negotiation is simply the act of reaching an agreement as to how you’ll move forward. It’s the process of communicating back and forth, and finally having all parties agree to a solution.
There are many ways to arrive at this agreement. Some people view negotiation as a game they have to win. They use “hard” negotiation tactics, and this often leaves one party very satisfied and the other side with no choice but to agree. The problem with this approach is that the relationship between the two parties is often permanently damaged. The person asking for something may receive it, but the second person probably feels taken advantage of and, perhaps, angry and resentful. If it wasn’t really a willing “yes”, the second person is unlikely to complete the work quickly, or with a positive attitude.
The opposite approach is to accommodate. This is when one party yields his or her position and original goal, simply agreeing to what the other person wants. This “soft” tactic is often the result of wanting to keep relationships friendly. The end result, however, is that this person doesn’t get what’s needed, and he loses control to the other person.
‘Negotiations that aim for mutually satisfying outcomes are often best. These are sometimes called collaborative, integrative, or principled negotiations.’
Negotiations that aim for mutually satisfying outcomes are often best. These are sometimes called collaborative, integrative, or principled negotiations. The techniques used to conduct these help negotiators find a solution that shows high concern for the needs of both sides. The result is a win-win solution: rather than one side giving up a “position”, the focus is on finding a new position where everyone is happy and is satisfied.
In the book Getting to Yes, based on the work of the Harvard Negotiation Project, authors Roger Fisher and William Ury outline four parameters for principled negotiation:
- Separate the people from the problem
- Focus on interests, not positions
- Generate a variety of possibilities before making a decision
- Define objective standards as the criteria for making the decision
If you use these elements as the basis of your negotiation, you’ll be more able to find creative solutions to the problems you’re trying to solve.
‘To use the principles of principled negotiation, you must be assertive. Forget the idea that negotiation means giving something up. Instead, this new process frees you to get what you need.’
Assertiveness and negotiation
To use the principles of principled negotiation, you must be assertive. Forget the idea that negotiation means giving something up. Instead, this new process frees you to get what you need.
So, when your boss asks you to be on another committee, and you don’t really have the time, you don’t have to say “yes” or “no”. Instead, approach the situation as an opportunity to negotiate.
Does the new committee offer career development opportunities that fit with your long-term objectives? If yes, perhaps you can give up another assignment in exchange, or maybe you can negotiate hiring an assistant so that you can reduce your workload. This might even be the time to renegotiate your job description and redefine your roles and responsibilities within the organization!
Whatever the situation, if you view negotiation as a collaboration, you say “yes” to the other person by respecting his or her needs – at the same time that you give yourself the opportunity to say “no” to the task itself.
‘Not all requests should be negotiated. Sometimes when your boss asks you to do something, you need to say “no”.’
When to say “no”
Not all requests should be negotiated. Sometimes when your boss asks you to do something, you need to say “no”.
Here are some key questions to ask before saying “no” to a task:
- Do I have time to do it?
- How urgent and/or important is it?
- Am I the right person for the task?
- Is someone else best suited to the job?
- Does this request fit with my goals and objectives?
If your answer to any of these questions is “no”, then you may be best off saying “no”. (There’s more on how to do this below!)
On the other hand, it’s usually unprofessional to say “no” to a task just because you don’t want to do it, you don’t understand how to do it, it will take a long time, or it’s messy and complex.
‘… make sure that you explain your justification… If the other person understands why you’ve said “no”, they are less likely to be left with the impression that you’re simply being unhelpful.’
How to be accepted while telling your boss “no”
If your answer to the task request is “no”, then figure out how to say “yes” to the person at the same time. To do this, make sure that you explain your justification so that it’s clear that you’re only saying “no” to this particular task – and possibly only on this occasion. If the other person understands why you’ve said “no”, they are less likely to be left with the impression that you’re simply being unhelpful. However, you may also have to be firm about how you say “no”.
As we’ve discussed, saying “yes to the person and no to the task” may also mean negotiating different arrangements to accommodate the request in a different way.
To say “yes” to the person, first answer three main questions:
- What does this person really need?
Find areas of flexibility
- How else can this person’s need be met?
Find a different frame of reference or approach to the problem
Look for time and resource alternatives.
- How can I support this person to have the need met?
Define the larger goal
Look for common interests and needs
High levels of trust and good communication are essential to this process. Although there’s no guarantee that trust will lead to a good solution, mistrust will almost certainly harm collaboration. People who don’t trust each other tend to be defensive, and this often leads people to look for “hidden agendas” or withhold information.
‘High levels of trust and good communication are essential to this process. Although there’s no guarantee that trust will lead to a good solution, mistrust will almost certainly harm collaboration.’
When people trust each other, they’re more likely to communicate their needs accurately. When they share information about what they want, what they need, and why they need it, this can lead people to cooperate to look for a joint solution. And when you work in an environment of respect and trust, it’s much easier to reach an agreement without compromising your needs in the process.
Image: PixabayRead other articles by Angela Civitella
Angela Civitella, a certified management business coach with more than 20 years of proven ability as a negotiator, strategist, and problem-solver, creates sound and solid synergies with those in quest of improving their leadership and team building skills. You can reach Angela at 514 254-2400 • linkedin.com/in/angelacivitella/ • intinde.com • @intinde