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If You Disagree With Your Employee, Don’t Say “No”

If You Disagree With Your Employee, Don’t Say “No”_Yellow Spark Blog
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If You Disagree With Your Employee, Don’t Say “No”

Manoj Tolani (name changed), President of a reputed advertising agency, is a well-known name in the corporate sector. However, his employees don’t have the most favourable opinion of their boss. His authoritarian and rigid personality stifled creativity. Manoj once humiliated one of his employee in front of the entire Board during a presentation, for something he didn’t really agree with.

The employees later agitated against Mr. Tolani’s behaviour, stressing on the point that the organisation’s reputation was due to the employees’ hard work – despite their boss’s demeanour, and not because of it. The Board, having taken stock of the situation, issued a stern warning.

I have seen several employee disciplinary actions and exits in my work career and I must acknowledge that most of those exits could have been avoided only if the person had displayed presence of mind and self-control. Negative, pessimistic comments would lead to an unhealthy relationship between you and the employees, also amounting to mistrust and a communication gap. On the other hand, effective employee communication can work wonders in increasing productivity and lower the attrition rate.

Building company culture doesn’t depend on how fast you get the work done but deals more with how you engage with your team members and colleagues. You may know what is needed or what the outcome should be, but the same may not be on the employee’s mind. It’s easy to put one down for it, and more difficult to take the high road, and help them understand.

With an ‘Open Door policy’ being adopted by many organisations, employees get direct access to business leaders. There will be times where they might approach you with ideas or requests that may not be agreeable to you. However, don’t say ‘no’ just yet. Knowing how to effectively communicate a ‘no’ is an art too.

Here are six things you can do instead:

1. Practice listening

“Listening is often the only thing that most people want.” One of the many crucial habits leading to a better relationship with your employee is listening. Develop the routine of first listening, and then acting. Stopping the employee midway and not letting him complete his thought can lead to a communication gap and a feeling of mistrust between you and him.

Instead take a few hours or a day to respond on the thoughts shared by the employee, reconsider while you have this time. If you still disagree, communicate that with reason to the employee. The employees will most certainly feel satisfied that their thoughts were heard out, considered and the rejection is backed by reason. This would not only make them feel that their superiors respect them but will also earn you respect.

2. Say it tactfully:

Tact, as Benjamin Franklin put it, is about “remembering not only to say the right thing in the right place but far more difficult still, to leave unsaid the wrong thing at the tempting moment.” When it’s time to disagree with your employee, the way you express it can make all the difference.

If you hedge and are way too lenient in making them understand, you might not be taken seriously. Be calm, assertive, yet understanding when you speak. Make it a point to convey to them that the disagreements are strictly professional and not personal.

Anticipate your employee’s counterargument. How can you use that knowledge to persuade them to see it differently? Gather resources, data and reasons to make your case and lend it credibility.

3. Consider the positives

Instead of directly rejecting their proposals or arguments, try to point out the positives in the work of your employees. Keep in mind that what appears unviable today might be completely relevant for another time or project. Also, bring forth the positives from your side and try coming up with a final decision keeping both of your arguments in mind. Making an inventory of its pros will encourage the employee to also consider your views about the cons.

This will create an image of a fair and understanding leader whom they could feel safe sharing ideas with. This would also encourage them to improve their performance for your institution in the future.

4. Read the clues well

The next time you disagree with what your employee asserts, or vice versa, look to basic psychology for help. Understand the seriousness or the intensity of his argument well before the disagreement comes into the picture.

Understand their silence when they maintain one and react accordingly. Do not mistake one’s silence for weakness, and pile on the pressure with chastising. Listen to their responses well and understand where it’s coming from before reacting. Pay heed to the amount of anger or frustration they deal with in the process of convincing you and handle the situation accordingly. Lastly, make sure you appreciate their apologies whenever they offer one.

Try considering all such factors so as to avoid an unnecessarily negative environment at your workplace and handle your employees with tact and calm.

5. Know when to back down

If you’re unable to convince your employee with your arguments and they don’t agree with what you say, respect their decision and make sure they know they still have your full support. Your graciousness in accepting defeat will shore up the trust that allowed them to disagree in the first place.

Confront the ones who falter, in private, rather than in front of others or you’ll have eliminated all the trust and respect you’ve worked so hard to build.

How you respond might even lead them to reconsider their decision later on or to seek your input on another issue in the future.

6. Work on the disconnect

A lot of corporate houses suffer from a problem of disconnect between the superiors and the employees. Keep yourself updated with the camaraderie among your employees and with you. To end the distance and disconnect between both the sides of your organisation, you can do the following simple tasks:

Get involved – Offer to help with tasks whenever possible. Make them feel valued, be a guide to them. Encourage the good in them and also teach them to work on the negatives. Make them feel that you stand by their side so as to nurture a healthy relationship and a better work outcome.

Communicate – Employees may feel ashamed to accept that they don’t know something, especially in front of their bosses. As a result, they tend to act like a know-it-all and overpromise under the burden of your expectation, and consequently fail. One way to prevent that from happening is to set the expectation straight. The focus should remain on the task/challenge at hand and the ways to solve it.

Encourage ideas – There’s more than one way of solving a problem, let the employees think and implement their solution(s). Consider their suggestions and create an atmosphere of free thought and expression. The best teams thrive on productive disagreement.

For your employees to have faith and trust in you, you need to create a healthy environment for them. Moreover, with such an environment, unreasonable disagreements are few and far in between.


At Yellow Spark, we help our clients build on their internal communications. This includes fostering two-way communication, employee communication, employee engagement and much more. Write back to us contact@yellowspark.in for a personalised solution for your business.

Author Profile: Deepam Yogi is an adventurer at heart, socially conscious in her gut and professionally a strategic consultant. She co-founded Yellow Spark to support organisations to build workplaces that people love being a part of. Deepam describes herself as a shy yet opinionated writer, and firmly believes that most answers to complex issues lie in simple communication.