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Clearview® Performance Systems brings you ... ... a Culture of Results & Engagement™

Managerial TIPS*

Proven High Value Activities (HVAs)

[ *Techniques/Insights/Practical Solutions ]

Here's the next in our series of weekly managerial TIPS (Techniques, Insights, and Practical Solutions)
to help you better engage your team in the activities that lead to higher performance.

CORE Bites Issue #51

Is it Possible to Have a 'Positive' No?

No. It's two letters ... one word ... a complete sentence. But "no" can be a contentious word which frequently makes things awkward between those in management and their employees. Central to the difficulty in saying no is the tension between exercising our authority and maintaining relationships with our employees. We may not say "no" because we're afraid of somehow damaging the relationship. Over the years I've met many people in management who find it easy to say "yes" ... but struggle when needing to say "no."

While none of us want to be known as a human brake pedal, saying no is a fact of life for anyone in management. As a leader, there will be times when you have to say no to an employee. From denying a request for a day off, to vetoing an idea, to denying an exception to policy, to turning down a request for a pay increase, to rejecting a budget proposal, saying no is a natural (and necessary) part of managing people.

However, that doesn't mean it has to be painful.

I just finished reading The Power of a Positive No: How to Say No and Still Get to Yes by William Ury, a professor at Harvard. Ury says it's not surprising that people find it difficult to say no. In his words, "After all, most people aren't very good at it."

While Ury's book is a comprehensive instruction manual describing how to deliver a Positive No in pretty much every area of life, this issue of CORE Bites only has room for a couple of powerful nuggets from the book. If you're interested in reading my notes from this book, click here.

High Value Activity (HVA) Action Steps

There will be times when you have to say no to an employee—it's unavoidable. Here are a few HVAs to help you deliver a Positive No without hurting workplace morale:

  • Making a "No" Positive: The orientation you choose in establishing the No will dramatically influence receptivity. Think of the difference between these two "No" statements delivered to a child who wants to go outside and play with his friends: 1) "No, you can't, because you haven't finished your homework." and 2) "Sure you can, right after you finish your homework." In the first example, the parent is seen as the bad-guy, standing in the way of what the child wants, whereas the second example makes the child responsible for getting what he wants. In the workplace, this approach delivers powerful outcomes!
  • Acknowledge and Clarify: Nothing will spark negativity more than a "no" when it doesn't appear you've given an employee's request any consideration. It's very important that the employee feels heard. Listen to the full request, ask questions to obtain all the facts, and use paraphrasing to ensure you are fully understanding what they're asking. Most everyone understands that managers can't do everything (e.g., say "Yes" to everything), so if they believe there's been adequate consideration, they'll be less negative about the "No."
  • Turn a "No" into Feedback: Saying "No" can give you an opportunity to provide valuable feedback. After your no, take the time to make suggestions focusing on what an employee can learn from the situation or what will need to be done differently next time. A "no" transformed into a learning opportunity will be received much better than an unsupported no. This approach works very well if you're able to offer an alternative 'Plan B.'
  • Recognize That Saying "No" Is a Business Skill: Learn to say No by being straightforward and honest, but not rude, so that you can make your point effectively. According to Ury, "Don't blame, don't shame, speak your truth openly, but don't do it with cruelty."

I'd love to hear how this HVA works for you!

Neil Dempster, PhD, MBA
RESULTant™ and Behavioral Engineer

Quote of the Week

"A ‘no' uttered from deepest conviction is better and greater than a ‘yes' merely uttered to please, or what is worse, to avoid trouble."

— Mahatma Gandhi —