How To Say No To Your Boss Without Getting Fired

women who ask

My 3.5 year old daughter told me that I say “no” too much. 

It's true, I say no - a lot. 

I mean, there are a million things she shouldn’t be doing! But it really did break my heart hearing her say that. 

I realized that I’d forgotten the practices that I’d developed with her older brother. 

My son’s preschool taught all the parents a technique to use so that they weren’t saying “Stop!”, “Don’t do that!”, and “No, No, No” all of the time. 

Instead of telling kids what you don’t want them to, tell them what you would like them to do. Offer them an alternative. 

So instead of saying, “No, there’s no way we’re having ice cream for breakfast!”, I could say: “You may have oatmeal for breakfast -- or eggs and toast. Which would you like?” 

“No, it’s too cold to play outside in the sprinkler” turns into: “Why don’t we get our watering can out and water some of the plants in the garden?”

And instead of me shouting, “STOP! NO YOU CAN'T bring the ipad into the bathtub!!!” I could calmly say, let’s find some new bath toys to bring into the tub tonight.” 

It sounds simple, but it takes some brain re-wiring and practice. "No" is the easier, instinctual response.

You might be thinking this sounds like hippie California parenting. What parent doesn’t say no to their child? 

It doesn’t mean you never say no. Sometimes you have to say no. What I love about this approach is that it’s a very effective way to get your point across to your kids without losing the connection you have with them, breaking their spirit, or stamping out their curiosity. 

What does this have to do with your boss?

The same technique that works with kids works on adults too.

You can say no to your boss without having to say no. 

Instead of saying no and worrying that you’ll get a reputation for being an uncooperative nay-sayer (or worse yet, get fired), tell your boss what you can do. Give alternatives. 

Can you stay late? 

Let’s say your boss asks you to stay late and complete a proposal. 

Your visceral response may be to swear under your breath, put on a fake  smile and say “sure” with clenched teeth. 

Here’s another option: Ask your boss when the client is expecting it. Does it really have to be done tonight? Offer to reschedule whatever else you had in the morning and block off time to complete the proposal by noon. 

Take the time to ask questions and explore what the real need is and think through some solutions to address whatever your boss is truly worried about. 

Can you take over this project? 

Let’s say one of your team members left the company and your boss asks you to take over one of her projects. 

You want to say no because you’ve got so much on your own plate.

Start by asking questions:

--What’s the status of the project right now? 
--What are the upcoming deadlines? 
--Who else has knowledge in this area? 

Tell you boss that you’d like to sit down and talk through the deliverables, the deadlines, and figure out what the priorities are between this project and what you’re already responsible for. This opens the door to be problem solvers together. 

We think you’d be great in this new role

Let’s say you’re tapped on the shoulder for a new role. The message that your manager gives you is, “we think you’d be great for this and it’s an opportunity you wouldn’t want to miss.” 

But the role feels like a step backward in your mind. More work without the support, recognition, or pay that the role deserves.

How do you say no, when it feels like you don’t have a choice? 

Your best option is to say, “Yes, and here’s what I would need in order to be successful in this role.” Negotiate the job title, job duties, pay, reporting structure, and whatever support you’d need to truly set yourself up for success.  

There are other possibilities besides a yes or a no

I was once offered a job as the executive director of an organization. But I wanted the time to build my coaching practice and didn't think that I could do both. Looking back I see that I could have tried saying, “Yes, and here’s the flexible schedule I’d want in order to make it work for me.”  I’ll never know if we could have made something work because I didn’t negotiate. 

We get into the mental rut of thinking that there are two answers to a request: yes or no. 

But if you say yes, then there’s no reason to negotiate. And if you say no, there’s no possibility of getting the things that might have made you want to say yes. 

Next time you feel a knee-jerk response to say “there's no way” to a request, step back and breathe. Ask yourself, is this a time when I need to say no? Or can I offer some alternatives that help maintain the relationship and keep me connected with my boss? 

Here are the phrases to practice:

“How about this [offering what you can do]?” Or

 “Yes. And here’s what I’d need to make it work for me….” 

I’d love to hear what’s worked for you? What do you say when you want to say no, but feel like you can't?