Helping the Chronically Overworked Find Life Balance

Why It Is Hard To Say NO To the Boss?

Chapter 10: The People-First Life, Part 11

When the boss asks you to do something, it can be hard to say no.  But saying no is one of the most important career skills you can learn. (And here is a good article with some tips on how to say no to the boss.) Over the next few posts, I’ll share the secret of saying no to the boss. But first, lets review why it is so easy to say yes, even if we don’t want to.

Humans have a psychological predisposition to say yes to authority figures. I’ve included a video that  shows footage of the obedience experiments run by Stanley Milgram, a social psychologist at Yale in the sixties. Milgram showed that ordinary people will give painful electronic shocks to other people if instructed by an authority figure. Participants thought they were testing memory, and started giving shocks of increasing severity. The recipient (who was really an actor) began to cry out in pain and beg for the experiment to end.

How did people react?  Participants got upset, asked to quit, but the man in the white coat told them “the experiment requires you to continue.” The shock was given, again and again, even when the recipient started groaning and no longer spoke. Watch the video; it’s shocking.

So if random people will hurt other people because a stranger in a white coat told them to do so, how much stronger is the impulse to obey when it is your boss asking you to do something less dastardly?

Living a people-first life provides an escape from the blind obedience described by Milgram. I’ll explain in detail in the next post. As a hint, for every yes to the guy in the white coat, there was a no to the guy being shocked.

<<Previous  Next>>


  1. […] time, your boss is the single most important person to you at your job. And given our propensity to obey authority figures, it is especially hard to say no to the boss – after all, it is part of your job to work on what […]