Helping the Chronically Overworked Find Life Balance

The Secret To Saying No To Your Boss Is To Say Yes To Someone More Important

Chapter 10: The People First Life Part 12

Most of the 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 they tell you to work on. And if you like the boss and like the company, saying no is even harder.

The trick to saying no in the post-idolatry world is to remember that work is no higher than the third priority in your life. If you are a believer, I don’t need to tell you that God is more important than work. And if you aren’t a believer, your health and the people in your life are more important than work.

So when your boss asks you to do something that you want to say no to, think of someone more important in your life, e.g a spouse, a child, or a friend. Now give that other person in your life more authority than your boss. If you say yes to the boss and work longer hours,  it will take away from a more important part of your life.

Imagine this other person is inviting you to be with them. Maybe it is a hike, maybe it is having dinner, maybe it is just sitting together. Visualize how they look at you. They see you for the person you really are, and love you for it. And because they are more important to you than the company, your mind is clear.  You are in the moment with them, free from the mental chatter of the work world.

Say yes to the other person, and then let your boss down easy.

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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.

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