Productivity Lie #14: never say NO to your boss

So, coming from the mind-set of “Is this for the greater good of the company and my productivity levels?" sometimes saying no is a necessary action to take.


I used to work for an autocratic boss. She was tough as nails; finger pointing and hard cold stares were her ‘thing’, making it easy to shy away from her command-like instructions into the realms of becoming a ‘yes’ person … usually at the cost of your own personal authenticity. I come across many such bosses in my capacity as a trainer. I’m privy to stories that would make me shiver if taken out of context.

And while this management style is prevalent in the workplace, through assumptions, it’s often the fault of the individual (i.e. you) that’s at play. You see, while you might fear your boss, devalue your own opinion and believe your own voice (whether based on rank or personality) is of lesser value, in my experience, even the super ‘tough as nails’ type of bosses are on a mission to be the best they can be, and they need you to help them get there.

So kick off your shoes, grab a coffee, and listen up for a moment. Done right, everyone is up for a challenge. If you currently believe there is no way to get around your boss’ constant demands or even fair(ish) ramblings, pause for a moment, as you might be wrong.

What productivity lies are you telling yourself?

PRODUCTIVITY LIE #14: I can’t say NO to my boss

Sure, saying NO could be detrimental to your long-term career goals. Said with malice, at an inappropriate time or just for the sake of it, are not great strategies for ensuring an amicable office relationship. On the flip side though, when you start putting boundaries in place, pushing back and challenging the status quo, great things can happen.

So, coming from the mind-set of “Is this for the greater good of the company?”, “Based on what I know to be true….” and “Do I know a better, more effective way?”, perhaps it’s not such a bad thing to dig your heels in from time to time. Saying NO done well, can boost your relationship with your boss, building trust and reliability.

The three things you can do right now:

Saying NO nicely

Let’s get this straight from the get-go; there is a wrong and a right way of saying NO to your boss. The one way can get you fired; the other can advance your career. When choosing the latter as your preferred outcome, things to consider are:

  1. Timing: If you (or your boss) are in an angry strop or surrounded by people, it’s worth waiting till things are calmer and you can get him or her alone. Think: taking a moment to gather your thoughts, counting to ten or hearing an impartial opinion as being some alternative success strategies in this circumstance.
  1. Tone: An outright “no” might work in some circumstances; for the better part though you might want to hit the request with a softer approach. You can try: “Great idea boss, I’m just working on XYZ at the moment, can I take a look at that next month?” or “I’m a little concerned that we’re stretching ourselves too thinly/being too impulsive/needing more time to move forward with that, can we consider a plan B?” or “What if we tried approaching this from a different angle?” are more amiable approaches than an outright NO.
  1. Tease: Feeding into your boss’s ego before firing off a retort might work wonders. I read once that at core level, human beings of all walks of life just need validation. Thinking of creative ways to show your boss that he is doing a great job could be all the fuel you need when worming your own way. Try “Great idea, it makes me think of …” or “You know how you mentioned,” (when actually it was you who mentioned) … Teasing is slightly mischievous I know, but sometimes necessary.

Okay, okay, I know this isn’t fool proof so I feel it necessary to add a disclaimer. See it as a word of caution. While not all bosses are created equal, not all are bad, mean or ugly; the harsh reality is that they are still your boss and they’re likely just doing the best job they know how to do. If you’ve consistently tried new and creative techniques of saying “No” to no avail, now might be the time to consider getting yourself a new boss.

Side-track story: While still working under (and I use ‘under’ with tremendous intent as she never made me feel equal, valued or worthy of offering an alternative to “Yes ma’am”) my previously mentioned boss’s huge thumb, I was challenged by my husband to focus on just one thing that I could actually like and respect about her as an alternative to my image of a monster woman with snakes flying out of her head every time she hissed a command. I struggled to find something at the time and eventually resorted to the fact that her fingernails were always immaculately groomed. So here’s where I’m going with this… every time I really, really needed to say “no” and felt I couldn’t, I’d calm myself down by taking a moment to think nice thoughts about her lovely nails (timing). Then, feeling slightly more relaxed in my happy thinking, I’d lower my voice to that of a respectful subordinate (tone) and hit her with a random compliment (tease) usually moments before being sent back to my desk to do exactly what she’d commanded in the first place. Saying “No” doesn’t always work, but you still have a choice. After all, I left didn’t I?

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