How to Say No to Power

People who are involved in project work — as sponsors, functional managers, project managers, business analysts, task managers, or team members — work together toward a shared objective. Sometimes, even though they have a common goal, their agendas conflict.

How to Say No to Power

The universal symbol for No. Sometimes those who have a great deal of organizational power — intentionally or not — persuade their subordinates to commit to the impossible, rather than risk the consequences of explaining why the impossible is not possible.

And when these conflicts appear, one person or group might want to deny the request of another. This can lead to escalating pressure and tension. Often, pressured parties tire of the tension, or fear sets in, and they "cave" — they yield to the pressure. At times, yielding leads to an agreement that simply cannot be fulfilled, which then threatens the project's success. When this happens, saying "no" — finding a way not to yield — would have been better for the health of the project.

Just as important as saying no is hearing no. When you need something from someone, whether it's effort or resources, you need commitment, not words. An empty yes won't help. How can you learn to hear "no" and work toward something everyone can live with?

Why is it so hard to say "no" or to hear "no"? This program explores:

  • The structure of these pressure situations
  • Typical tactics used by both sides
  • The dynamics of saying yes or no
  • Perils of saying yes inappropriately
  • Traps and pitfalls when you say no
  • Honest, direct ways to say no

Core message:

  • Your own "no" is more powerful than anyone else's "yes"
  • Saying "No" to power is difficult — so we often say "Yes"
  • Hearing "no" when we have the power is just as difficult
  • Agreeing to the impossible doesn't make the impossible possible
  • Saying yes when you wanted to say no just delays the reckoning
  • To succeed, move the group toward problem solving

Our approach is unusual. Far from the dry, laptop-driven format of most corporate presentations these days, the program is highly interactive and experiential. Not only is the method effective as a training tool, it's lively and fun.

What past participants say

  • Very informative and helpful. It makes you truly rethink how to handle "no" situations. A wonderful presentation and terrific content! Truly useful! — Tara Redmond, Northern Safety Co., Inc.
  • I enjoyed the various techniques you used to re-enforce the message. — Mal El Tigi
  • Rick is animated, down-to-earth, and full of useful tips.
  • Excellent information, great presentation! — Ken McVearry
  • Rick presented real-life situations that I can take back and use tomorrow. — Debbie Gardner

Program structure and content

Whichever format you elect — presentation, seminar, workshop, or clinic — we practice saying no. So we begin with introductions. We introduce ourselves to each other, and we introduce the ideas that we will be talking about.
Examples of say-no scenarios
We examine situations in which we want to say no, but often don't. We look at work life in general, at the project management context, and at everyday life.
What are the dynamics of saying no?
To understand why saying no can be so difficult, we examine the dynamics of saying no — the interaction between your self-image and your say-no partner. This helps us understand where the pressure comes from.
What are the traps and pitfalls of saying no?
Many of us have tried — with mixed success — to say no. The troubles we've encountered, or watched others encounter, are often avoidable. We learn where the traps are and how to avoid them.
Tactics for saying no directly
Some tactics work fairly well. We learn a variety of ways to move from confrontation to problem solving.

In this fun and interactive presentation, we explore how saying no works, with special emphasis on its failure modes. We emphasize saying no under stress, where the most expensive failures occur. And we examine some of the perils of saying yes when we know that can't deliver.

This program is available as a keynote or breakout. For the shorter formats, coverage of the outline below is selective.

Learning model

Understanding how we respond to pressure is not enough. We must have access to what we know in the moment, when we're deeply involved in problematic situations. That's why we use an experiential approach in which participants actually get out of their chairs and do things. The doing itself becomes practice and heightens understanding and retention.

Our approach is unusual. Far from the dry, laptop-driven format of most corporate presentations these days, the program is highly interactive and experiential. Not only is the method effective as a training tool, it's lively and fun.

Target audience

This is one program that brings benefits to everyone. There's no need to segregate participants by profession, by specialty or by "org chart level" — in fact, this program gives your organization a way to bring together people from diverse parts of the organization.

Program duration

Available formats range from 50 minutes to one full day. The longer formats allow for more coverage or more material, more experiential content and deeper understanding of issues specific to audience experience. But even in the shorter formats, participants regularly report that they had fun and learned a lot.

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    — Tina L. Lawson, Technical Project Manager, BankOne (now J.P. Morgan Chase)
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