One of the most useful resilience skills you can learn is how and when to say “no.” Setting boundaries and saying no improves productivity by allowing time for recovery, training, and building relationships with team members.

Unfortunately, many workplaces are “yes” cultures, where saying “no” is discouraged.

In these cultures, even those of us who are good at saying no may hesitate for fear that colleagues will be disappointed, question our commitment, or not view us as team players. We worry that supervisors will penalize us if we say no, even when it means that our work product and personal life suffer.

A “yes” culture can cripple an organization, especially if senior leaders are big idea generators and staff doesn’t push back. Leaders can avoid creating a “yes” culture by fostering an environment in which saying no is encouraged and rewarded. Here are some ways leaders can empower their staff to say no. 

Establish a Rating System

Create a list of criteria for scoring possible new projects. When senior leaders propose a new idea, meet as a team to rate the proposal. Use that rating to help prioritize the value of the suggestion. If the score is low, you have an objective basis for declining and explaining that the project is not a priority at the moment.

Evaluate the Cons

Many of us see only the good that can from a new project or idea and forget to evaluate the cost. As a team, list both the pros and cons of taking on a new project. Look at your assumptions, assess the risk, identify the opportunity cost of what will not get done, and encourage honest exploration of what could go wrong. Don’t proceed unless the pros outweigh the negatives.

Celebrate Saying “No”

Publicly praise employees who say no. Be open to changing your mind and, when you do, explain why. Point out how a colleague’s “no” helped you avoid making the wrong decision. In staff meetings, ask for dissenting views and thank the contributors.

Don’t Have a Default Answer

While always saying “yes” can be destructive, automatically saying “no” will also cause harm. You don’t want your team to gain a reputation for always saying “no” and not contributing to the overall mission. Instead, tell senior leadership you’ll review the request with the team and respond soon with a thoughtful answer.

Explain Why You’re Saying “Yes”

When you do say yes, make it clear why “yes” in this case is best for the team.

When your team can confidently pass up opportunities that don’t generate enough value, you will have the time to say “yes” to those that matter. When your employees feel comfortable telling you no, you’ll find they are more capable and productive. They will feel empowered to speak out on other issues as well.

For more guidance on how to say no, check out this blog post.

How do you encourage your teams to say no?