If she had a choice, Robin would have gladly elected a root canal instead. But there she sat, with most of senior management bearing down on her. They wanted a simple "Yes, I'll make it happen." But she just couldn't say that.
Instead, she said, "I don't know how to get it done by then, and more money won't help. I'd propose instead that we find another way to meet their needs while we get this done."
Silence, as everyone waited to see how Warner would react. He gave her that famous glare, but Robin was prepared. She stared back.
"What did you have in mind?" he asked.
Robin knew immediately that she was home free, because instead of blaming and intimidating, they were now problem-solving. She had used one of several workable techniques for Saying No to Power. There's always a risk when you try it, but a risk of upsetting Power by saying "No" now is almost always better than the certainty of upsetting them when your placating "Yes" implodes a few months from now.
To help you stay centered
as you say no,
use "I" statementsTo feel good about saying no, start by feeling good about yourself. Then adding the no is a small step. When you say no, you're just stating the truth as you see it. To help you focus on this centered approach, use "I" statements as you say no. Examples:
- I don't know how to do that.
- If you honestly don't see how to do it, it's better to let them know now than it is to have them discover it later, after you said you could do it. Remember, your limitations are not yours alone. If you don't know how to do it, there's an excellent chance that nobody does.
- I can't do that by the time we need it. Could you help me adjust some priorities?
- Another way to say this one is, "Sure, I can do that, but it would have to be instead of something else that's less important." Then the two of you can negotiate priorities.
- I don't know how to meet that date with the schedule we've already accepted from our supplier. Can we get those components from them any earlier?
- Now the group is problem-solving a critical-path schedule issue. Perhaps someone in the room can work this issue better than you can.
- I don't know how we can meet that date. What would happen if we were a week late?
- This moves the discussion to a question of the target date. In most cases, a one-week delay is OK, so this is actually an exploration of the boundary of "OK."
For more on saying no, see "Saying No: A Tutorial for Project Managers"
For a survey of tactics for managing pressure, take a look at the series that begins with "Managing Pressure: Communications and Expectations," Point Lookout for December 13, 2006.
Are you fed up with tense, explosive meetings? Are you or a colleague the target of a bully? Destructive conflict can ruin organizations. But if we believe that all conflict is destructive, and that we can somehow eliminate conflict, or that conflict is an enemy of productivity, then we're in conflict with Conflict itself. Read 101 Tips for Managing Conflict to learn how to make peace with conflict and make it an organizational asset. Order Now!
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More articles on Conflict Management:
- Caught in the Crossfire
- You lead a company, a department, or a team. When two of your reports get caught up in a feud, what
do you do? Let them fight it out? Order them to stop? Fire them both? Here are some tips for making a peace.
- Email Ethics
- Ethics is the system of right and wrong that forms the foundation of civil society. Yet, when a new
technology arrives, explicitly extending the ethical code seems necessary — no matter how civil
the society. And so it is with email.
- How to Prepare for Difficult Conversations
- Difficult conversations can be so scary to contemplate that many of us delay them until difficult conversations
become impossible conversations. Here are some tips for preparing for difficult conversations.
- Dealing with Rapid-Fire Attacks
- When a questioner repeatedly attacks someone within seconds of their starting to reply, complaining
to management about a pattern of abuse can work — if management understands abuse, and if management
wants deal with it. What if management is no help?
- The Perils of Limited Agreement
- When a group member agrees to a proposal, even with conditions, the group can move forward. Such agreement
is constructive, but there are risks. What are those risks and what can we do about them?
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming February 21: The Ultimate Attribution Error at Work
- When we attribute the behavior of members of groups to some cause, either personal or situational, we tend to make systematic errors. Those errors can be expensive and avoidable. Available here and by RSS on February 21.
- And on February 28: Narcissistic Behavior at Work: I
- Briefly, when people exhibit narcissistic behavior they're engaging in activity that systematically places their own interests and welfare ahead of the interests and welfare of anyone or anything else. It's behavior that threatens the welfare of the organization and everyone employed there. Available here and by RSS on February 28.
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- The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
- Many people who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.