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:
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- 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.
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- Much of our day-to-day conversation consists of harmless clichés: "How goes it?" or
"Nice to meet you." Some other clichés aren't harmless, but they're so common that
we use them without thinking. Maybe it's time for some thought.
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- Political Praise is any public statement, praising (most often) an individual, and including a characterization
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the praiser's own political agenda, possibly at the expense of the one praised.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming March 28: Four Overlooked Email Risks: II
- Email exchanges are notorious for exposing groups to battles that would never occur in face-to-face conversation. But email has other limitations, less-often discussed, that make managing dialog very difficult. Here's Part II of an exploration of some of those risks. Available here and by RSS on March 28.
- And on April 4: Narcissistic Behavior at Work: III
- People who behave narcissistically tend to regard themselves as special. They systematically place their own interests and welfare ahead of anyone or anything else. In this part of the series we consider how this claimed specialness affects the organization and its people. Available here and by RSS on April 4.
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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.