Leadership Conversations; Saying "No"

Why is it that many leaders are so uncomfortable or downright scared to say “No” to a colleague, team member, or potential future hire?  Why is it that so many leaders, inexperienced and experienced alike, fail to understand that avoiding or attempting to circumvent difficult answers serves to undermine or erode their many efforts to establish credibility?

Time and time again I have observed and experienced uncomfortable leaders give answers to challenging questions that are vague, non-committal, misleading, or untruthful.  I have also observed and experienced complete avoidance to answering the question.  What is it that causes human beings to respond so obliquely to anxiety producing questions?

Of course there are many possible reasons. Some of them are:

  • Fear of conflict
  • Fear of loss of popularity
  • Fear of taking a risk
  • Fear of being wrong
  • Fear of loss of credibility
  • Fear of disappointing others
  • Fear of loss of control
  • Fear of loss of power
  • Fear of difference of opinion

People who ask such questions are usually either very excited or motivated about their idea or in seeking clarity.  Avoiding a direct answer, even if it is to gain time to formulate a response, is quickly perceived to be insincere or downright dishonest.  Not responding communicates disrespect.  These type of answers devalue and result in reduced or destroyed credibility.

When faced with a similar challenging question, leaders could build their credibility by:

  • Admitting the question is challenging
  • Asking for a little time to formulate an opinion and/or answer
  • Responding in a fashion that recognizes the value of the person asking the question
  • Giving an honest answer based upon organizational mission, values, and strategy
  • Taking full responsibility for the answer prefacing it with “I believe” or a similar form of personal accountability.

What type of answer have you been giving to those who ask challenging questions?  Do you avoid giving a difficult answer?  Are your answers constructive or destructive?  Do your answers build or hurt others? Do your answers build or ruin your credibility?

"But let your 'Yes' be 'Yes' and your 'No' be 'No' ". - Matthew 5:37