Why Managers Need to Say No More Often

BY Kathy Crosett
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Do you need to say no more often? Consider the following scenarios. A team member comes to you because they can’t remember the login credentials for a key resource. Or an employee sends an email to you for review and it contains the same spelling error that you’ve pointed out to them before. The end result is that you stop what you’re doing to help. That’s what a manager is supposed to do, right?

When It’s a Team Member Asking

In most cases, it is your job to support and develop the employees who report to you. But you might also be frustrated that your team members aren’t learning how to help themselves. News flash. Your behavior is enabling employees to depend on you. To truly help employees progress, you need to show a little tough love and say no more often.

In a recent Upjourney article, several managers explain how they say no without feeling guilty. These managers have all been where you are. They know that each request for help means that they will need to disrupt what they're working on. 

When you find yourself in this situation, ask a few questions. 

  • Have you already covered this ground with your team member? 
  • Would it be fairly easy for them to take initiative and answer their own question? 
  • Have you encouraged this team member to be independent enough?

If the answer to all three of these questions is yes, you have some work to do. You don’t have to specifically say no to the employee, but you do need to get them to change their behavior. And you can do that by changing your behavior. Instead of rushing to answer their question, explain that you’re busy and will help them later. You can also tell them where to find the answer, such as the company online resource where credentials or the style guides are stored. 

When the Boss Asks

We all know it’s not just team members who divert our time away from our planned work schedule. As we cope with the demands of changes associated with COVID-​19, we’ve learned to adapt and be flexible. We understand, as managers, that the workday doesn’t end at 5:00 p.m. So, while we’re ready to do the heavy lifting when our bosses ask us for help, we should think in advance about what the task really means.

In some cases, we don’t want to do the additional work because it’s a project that nobody has succeeded in completing. Unless you’re prepared to commit career suicide, don't just say no. Depending on your relationship with your manager, you may be able to point that the project has had a high failure rate in the past and that you don’t believe you’d be able to do any better. 

In other cases, you suspect you won’t be able to do a good job because it will mean working late when you’re tired. Ask your boss to help you review your tasks and prioritize which items must be completed first. Using this strategy allows your boss to reconsider what you already have on your plate. You also show your boss that you’re committed to making the company a success and have bought into achieving the agreed-​upon goals.

What should you do when the boss or a co-​worker you respect comes at you with an idea that seems like their own pet project? Don’t be afraid to say no. That’s what the experts advise. But, be respectful.

Say No More Often

In our professional lives, we’re all members of multiple teams and we need to contribute to these teams. We also need to wear our individual contributor task on occasion and preserve enough time in our schedule to develop and work on our own ideas that will support the organization.