Why You Need To Say ‘No’ To Your Manager Or Senior Leader

Frankie Kemp

24 April 2024

There’s a pervasive myth that you don’t question authority or say an outright ‘no’ to a manager or leader.  However, there are several valid reasons why you’d need to challenge your managers – politely, of course, and this is one of the most important communication skills to learn in the workplace.

In some cases, saying ‘no’ can have important implications, in a positive sense. Take the Space Shuttle Challenger Disaster, for example.  This calamity was due to engineers’ concerns about the O-rings not being communicated adequately as they were passed up the chain of command. Questioning this could have saved lives.

Saying ‘no’ does not make you a bad person. In fact, the beauty of this is that you help others understand the consequences of decisions.  You could say that it’s an act of generosity.  It’s also a word that denotes humility, driven by a knowledge of your own limits. But questioning decisions doesn’t necessarily infer an outright objection, and a mature and fair-minded manager or leader should understand that.

Here are five reasons why we should say ‘no’ to a manager or leader:

  1. You protect yourself and others from time-consuming, unrewarding activities, in some cases, even protecting lives, as in the Space Shuttle disaster

I’ve been introduced into companies to help teams have the guts to speak out.  Leaders often *want* to encourage this. They need others to point out what they can’t see and you’re playing an essential team role when you do so

  1. You give your team and yourself the ability to do great work

Decisions that negatively impact your team will hold them back. For instance, moving the date of a project forward may result in the need to cut corners in quality, all for the sake of making a spreadsheet lookgood for that quarter.  This would be a short-term gain resulting in a longer-term sacrifice. For the greater good of the team you need to speak up and make others aware of this potential outcome..

  1. There are misplaced priorities

Sometimes priorities are askew simply because managers and leaders are unaware of what else you’ve got on. You may have a number of projects on the go with  a leader for each of the projects on which you’re workingn. It’s up to you to get the leaders  to realise any clash in priorities before they agree amongst each other where the focus should be.

Negotiating deadlines before you miss them shows awareness and leadership potential in itself and this will reflect well on you.  Believe me, managers and leaders are usually more willing to do this than deal with an irate client because someone backstage has been silently struggling with timelines.

If speaking up in meetings feels you with fear, go here

  1. You’re overworked

OK, this is relative.  Some people think if they’re working more than four hours a week, they’re under pressure. I’ll leave you to judge where the limit is.

A friend of mine is working across UK and US time zones. With a family at home, starting at 8am and finishing at 10pm could have turned her into a raving psycho. However, she negotiated with both her team and manager, that she’s out of contact for several hours during the day.

Leaders aren’t necessarily aware of how the responsibilities they give play out in practice so part of your role is to point these out. This is a good interpersonal communication skill which also demonstrates your ability to  prioritise and manage your time effectively.

  1. Your competence has set you up as a task basket

You’re so able and reliable that they keep on giving you jobs to do.  However, no-one sees you weeping into your pillow at night.

I’m not advocating incompetence.  However, you can’t tick-off ‘burn-out’ on a Trello board and I’d presume that you didn’t get given the job because you looked like a sacrificial lamb. Problem-solving training will allow you to renegotiate deadlines or delegate to other people, otherwise you’ll be paying a much larger price with your health, and a good manager or leader should recognise that.

What to do when you absolutely can’t speak out

In some organisations or departments, leaders regard challenging or questioning decisions as objectionable. Which can mean a toxic environment is building, and in this case, your decision is to stay or go.

If it’s the former, you may find other allies or make peace with yourself, keeping your head down and bumping along the ride.

If you do decide to leave, make sure you go somewhere which shares your values.

In any case, it’s always prudent to pick your battles.  In this post here, ‘How to say no to your manager without damaging your career’ I tell you exactly HOW to do this.

Do you want help with your Communication Skills?  Are you having trouble with misunderstandings and friction in dispersed teams?  My communications and influencing courses show what I can do for individuals and groups, so check out the right course for you and sign-up today.

This article was originally published in 2021 and was completely updated in April 2024.

Leave a Comment.

Please note that for privacy reasons your email address is not publicly displayed.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Share This: