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Submitted by rgwierman on


 What do I do if a direct says no to an assigned task?

I finished listening to the two episodes of the "How to assign work tasks" podcasts. I have been trying to remember to ask directs to do things rather than tell them. I can't remember ever being told no. But my concern is if I accept no with no follow up that it could become a more common occurrence. I was wondering if I should follow up with feedback or at least ask why? I work as a supervisor in table games in a casino. When I ask my directs to go to a game they go. But if they knew they could simply say no some might decide not to if the game was full of loud drunk players, or cigar smokers. If a situation like this comes up, what would be the best way to handle it?




ednottingham's picture
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I LOVE these podcasts!

I live in HR and do coach training for leadership (AND love referring leadership to Manager Tools / Career Tools).  I emphasize "involve HR early" so that managers have guidance on performance issues begging for feedback, one-on-ones, and coaching v. conduct issues (e.g., insubordination) that might require the company's / organization's progressive discipline approach.  So, my suggestion is be clear on HR policies and procedures so as a manager you are clear on what approach is appropriate (e.g., coaching v. progressive discipline "counseling").

The beauty of asking (v. telling) is that it involves employees (empowers?).  Research from the 1970's (don't remember the reference) pointed out that simply involving employees greatly increases motivation.


ChrisBakerPM's picture

Work is not optional during working hours. Your asking rather than ordering staff is in part a polite fiction, because just plain "no" is not acceptable as a reply to a reasonable, work-related request from your manager. If you ask a direct to do something and they can't/won't/don't think they should, then they should have a good reason, and they need to provide that to you. You listen to that reason and then you, the manager, decide whether you agree.

Then onto HR policies if you have an employee who thinks they don't have to follow reasonable work-related instructions from the proper authorities. But I don't think that really happens all that much...

TNoxtort's picture

I take a little bit different view. Outside of work, and on other boards, I peer counselor a lot of men related to dating and marriage and learned a lot about  codependency and fear of abandonment. The authors I read have a concept of "get to rejection quickly," meaning, you can't control other people. Instead, you state what you want, and see how others respond. And if they don't respond the way you want, then you end the relationship and move on and find someone that does give you what you want. If people comply with you out of fear, you just build resentment and block communication. People who resort to motivating others by fear often have their own deep rooted fear of abandonment, and they are using their work, money, control of others, etc, to medicate those negative  feelings. For both relationships and employees, long term, that is not good. I think in the podast, that is the point that they were making. I don't think anyone can succeed anywhere if you don't let people be who they want to be.

Example - a couple minutes ago, my boss wants some calculation, by the end of the week. I can easily do that calculation - using a limit that our toxicological folks gave me, and the number I calculate would severely restrict a product we are working on. Or, I can say "no", and point out that this  limit does not appear to be supported by the literature, nor current products, and we need to get this limit revised. This relates to safety, so many people would have to be involved, and this will take time. The end result  will result in more flexibility in the product we are working on. 

if I say "yes" just to agree with my boss, who in my opinion who has no clue about the details of what is going but is addicted to rushing everything in life, we will miss out on an opportunity. By me saying, "no," if she listens, it's better in the long run. If she doesn't listen, I know where she stands and I have more date to make a decision on whether this is the right place for me career-wise, long term.

ChrisBakerPM's picture

There's no need to confuse "Manager" with "Martinet". Sure, if the direct has a good reason why they can't or shouldn't do what the manager has asked, then the manager should listen carefully, consider and change or retract the assignment if appropriate. And then thank the direct.

Of course there could be many good reasons what the direct can't  or shouldn't  comply - e.g. you ask them to do something having not realised that they are already doing something more urgent; or that is is unwise or impossible to comply for some reason that the manager didn't think of. Or that the direct can think of a better plan. The manager should always be willing to reconsider assignments if useful new information comes up, from the direct or elsewhere.

I must have failed to communicate all that  in my earlier contribution - sorry.

So I am not at all talking about motivating people by fear. But just taking "no" (for no good reason) from a direct means you are being a worm not a manager. A manager's quintissential role is  to deploy the team efficiently and effectively to do the necessary work, and that can't happen if directs can simply choose not to do stuff WITHOUT a good reason. I don't see this at all as being the same as  a "just do whatever I say and don't answer back" style of management.


stephenbooth_uk's picture

 I'm with CHRISBAKERPM, mostly.  If a direct just gives a straight 'No.' without giving a reason then that is one thing and deserves feedback.  I do think that the feedback should concentrate on the lack of a reason.  If the direct gives a reason then I believe the manager should consider the reason then either refute it or factor the reason into their instruction (change or withdraw the instruction).

In my techie days I frequently had to either explain why an instruction couldn't be followed or ask for clarification (either the instruction didn't have sufficient detail (e.g. "Tune the database.", yes but tune for what as typically if you tune for better update times you make query times worse and visa versa, also sometime managers would send an email with that instruction in (and nothing else) with no indication of which of the 200+ databases I worked on they were refering to) or to get information to judge how this fitted in to the prioritisation of work).  I don't think i ever said 'No', but i did say things like "I don't think that's possible because..." or "I think it woudl be better to..." a lot.

A couple of my managers had a repeated tendancy to promise things without checking they were possible at all or within the budget available.  Eventually I had to get them to commit to not promising anything that involved my technical area without running it past me first.  Fortunately by this time I had built up a good relationship with them and had a lot of expertise power so they were quite happy to let me attend the meetings with them and, often, in their stead.



Skype: stephenbooth_uk  | DiSC: 6137

"Start with the customer and work backwards, not with the tools and work forwards" - James Womack


ChrisBakerPM's picture

NEVADADEALER was wondering about whether directs would say "no" to the less pleasant assignments (because they would prefer not to do them, rather because they truly can't or shouldn't do them, and asking them do do assignments seems to offer this choice).

I think that most directs would only respond to an assignment with yes or with 'no for a good reason'. So that leaves us just a few cases.

Then it would be necessary to give feedback about the need to distribute the less nice assignments fairly around the team. And then give the assignment again.

Manager's role power is there as a fallback if needed. The thing NOT to do is to allow staff to opt out of assignments unfairly - it can only result in you dumping unpleasant tasks disproportionately on your more willing workers (or, just as bad, doing the direct's work yourself). I have seen this situation a couple of times (at a factory where I had a student job; in a team I shared offices with) and it is pretty poisonous for everyone. The more willing directs resent getting dumped upon, and the manager's role power gets diminished each time he/she really should have used it but didn't. And the direct who is avoiding the assignments is being tacitly encouraged to do it some more.

So I am thinking of "it is OK to say no to assignments" as being shorthand for "it is OK to say no to assignments for a good reason". Something that is probably obvious to most staff, but may need pointing out explicitly to some.

afmoffa's picture

Nevadadealer, if you can, try to do two things to mitigate the chance of your direct reports saying "no" to your work assignments

1.  Rotate your assignments regularly among people with similar skill sets. If your blackjack dealers are also qualified to deal poker, boss crap tables, deal with unhappy customers, etc., then try to spread the "bad" assignments around. Don't give a resistant employee cause to complain "You ALWAYS give me the smoking table."

2. Don't ever categorize assignments as "bad" or "good." Every job has good and bad parts. Maybe blackjack players are frequently polite and big tippers, and poker players are frequently rowdy and small tippers. Maybe everybody knows a shift on blackjack is much more enjoyable than a shift on poker. But if you buy into that, and start off with "sorry, Joe, but it's your turn to work poker this shift," that hurts morale. And don't ever define certain duties as punishment: "Last person to clock in each day has to work the smoker table."

Be fair, be impartial, and emphasize how all work is important to the team.