As a leader, saying “no” is one of the most challenging aspects of my job. I want to be supportive to all new ideas from my team, but it’s impossible to always say yes against budget, time and other constraints. How do I toe the line between being firm yet encouraging?

Here, I turned to my experience as a mom for guidance. My daughter often asks for candy in the morning, and I would instinctively say no. After always hearing a “no,” she felt that I would never take her feelings into consideration. From my point of view, I wasn’t against her eating candy, I just preferred her to eat it in the evening. What I really meant wasn’t “no” – just not right now. I realized I had to communicate in a way that would get my point across, but she would feel like she was being heard too. I now answer with “yes, you can have candy in the evening.”

A similar principle also applies to being a good manager. When employees always hear no, they become disengaged and believe their ideas are not considered important. Instead, communicating difficult decisions in a thoughtful way is essential to teamwork and employee retention.

Recently, my employee came up with an idea that would have cost over $20,000 to implement. I liked the initiative, but I was transparent about the fact that we currently didn’t have the resources to make it work. I said we would have to find a way to create surplus money to fund it and discussed realistic timelines we could aim for. Instead of reflexively offering a negative reaction, I steered the conversation so that my team could work towards finding a solution collaboratively.

It created buy-in from my team member who came up with the idea and inspired them to work hard towards achieving it. It also empowered the employee to set their own deadlines and take ownership of the new project. Ultimately both, my employee and I, felt like our ideas were valued.

What are your strategies to communicate difficult decisions? What works well for you?


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