Just as there are many ways to skin a cat, according to the old saying, there are an equal number of ways in which to say no. When it’s your boss you want to say it to, it’s a little trickier, but that doesn’t mean you have to bite your tongue and take whatever he (or she!) dishes out for fear of losing your job or doing harm to your career. Finding a method of moderating your refusal can help to make your pronouncement a little gentler, and combining it with a logical reason and options may make it easier to accept.
Evaluate Your Reason
The tactics you use to say no to a request or instruction from your boss depends on the request itself, and your reasons for not wanting to do it. Evaluate the validity of your reason by comparing it to the request. Does the request infringe on your rights as a person, your religious or cultural beliefs or traditions, or is it simply something you don’t like doing? If it’s the latter, decide whether the request is a legitimate one in terms of your work, in which case you will need to use different tactics than you would for something that is not covered in the job description.
Wear His or Her Shoes
Put yourself in your boss’s shoes and consider how the company will be affected if you refuse the request. For example, you will need a much stronger argument if your refusal is likely to result in financial losses, as opposed to simply rescheduling a meeting. If you want to say no to a request to travel to a meeting with 10 other people, which results in the company footing the bill for the other participants to travel instead, realizing that your boss will have to cover the costs will enable you to present a stronger argument.
If you know in advance that you are unable to carry out a request, don’t wait until the last minute to inform your boss that you must say no. By that point, it may be impossible for him to use an alternative method of getting the job done. Schedule a formal conversation at the very earliest opportunity, in which you present him with your understanding of his situation, your reasons for declining, and the alternative options you’ve considered for achieving the same result.
Never approach your boss with a refusal unless you are fully in control of your emotions. If his demand has upset you, wait until you calm down and have sifted through the evaluation of your reason, the impact on the boss or company, and the alternatives. Think ahead to the objections he could raise and how you will respond to them. Remain objective by making it about the company, not about yourself personally. For example, a company that does not permit employees to wear traditional headscarves may be convinced if you can show how diversity among the staff can benefit the firm and attract new customers.
Be Honest – Sometimes!
Chances are your boss will find out down the line if you use an imaginary excuse to get out of carrying out the request, and this will result in a loss of trust and harm your career. Be upfront about your (carefully evaluated!) reason to say no, and he will be more likely to understand and acknowledge your point of view. If your reason for refusing is that your angry ex-husband is likely to follow you to a business meeting and disrupt it, however, you might want to decide ahead of time just how much detail to divulge.
Choose Your Words
Never start a conversation with words that mean “no.” Open with a statement telling the boss that your first concern is the company’s best interests. Explain why it’s not possible, feasible or practical for you to fulfill his request, and give honest, logical and realistic reasons why this is the case. Remind him halfway that you want to see him succeed, and follow up with proposed alternatives for getting the task done. Assure him that you have evaluated the impact of the proposed changes, and rationalize any major effects that concern him.
If you are unable or unwilling to carry out a request, providing alternative options is a great way to convince your boss that your refusal does not mean the task will not be accomplished. Perhaps the request can be postponed, delegated to someone else, or substituted by another option? Presenting the possibilities at the time you say no will prove to him that you have the company’s best interests at heart, and that your refusal is not based on a desire to do harm. He may even learn to trust your judgment and accept future refusals readily.