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How To Say ‘No’ Without Damaging Employee Morale
by Judy Kneiszel

While denying an employee’s request for time off, a different team assignment, or new equipment may be justified, it isn’t easy.

Saying “no” may make a supervisor feel bad, because hearing “no” is likely to be disheartening for an employee.

While anyone who manages employees has to say no occasionally, delivering negative news respectfully improves the odds of maintaining a positive relationship with the employee whose request is being denied. 

The following tips can help you say no in when you will inevitably need to deny an employee’s request:

Consistently apply the rules. This is an area where company policies can be extremely helpful. If you set the expectation that no one will be allowed to circumvent existing policies, you will find that they establish boundaries for even the most persuasive employees. Employees may still ask to bend the rules, but they won’t really be surprised when you say no, because they should have been expecting the answer.

Provide a reason for denial, and be firm. Chances are you are not saying no for the sake of saying no. Most likely, you have a solid business reason for denying the request. Share that reason with the employee. For example, “That idea has a lot of merit, but we don’t have the budget to take action right now.”

Don’t be wishy-washy, and don’t apologize. Simply state the reason as a matter of fact and stand behind the decision.

Show empathy. While apologizing can make you seem weak or like your hands are tied, showing empathy can help ease the sting of a turndown. You might try phrases like, “I understand why you are upset,” or “I can see that this is frustrating for you.”

Say yes when you can. Sometimes an answer must be no, but sometimes you can negotiate a middle ground. For example, if staffing concerns won’t allow you to give a worker a certain day of vacation, you might try offering a different date.

Being open to an alternative when you have the opportunity for flexibility will lend more credibility and graciousness to the moments when you must say no.

 
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