Saying No to Your Boss is Never Easy, But Sometimes it's Necessary by@vinitabansal

Saying No to Your Boss is Never Easy, But Sometimes it's Necessary

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Vinita Bansal

Author Upgrade Your Mindset Scaling products → Scaling thinking. Former AVP Engineering @Swiggy

It was a Friday morning and I was waiting in the conference room for my manager. We had just achieved a great milestone as a team and delivered a highly critical time-sensitive project. It wasn’t an ordinary success as the entire organization was counting on this platform for a mega event. 

Time sensitivity and the added high visibility kept the team working non-stop for months day and night. It for sure felt like a roller coaster ride. There were moments good and bad. Highs and lows. Intense drama, multiple disagreements and countless arguments later, all the long hours, sleepless nights, and the hard work put together by the team had finally paid off. We had pulled it together as a team.

The celebration ended just a few days later and we tried to restore normalcy in the team. No more crazy working hours. No more super aggressive deadlines. No more high-pressure situations. What started with just a handful of engineers at the beginning of the project turned into a fairly large team when it all ended. We needed better processes, better structure and a working rhythm that makes work possible with other aspects of our life and not suck our life out of it.   

Everyone in the team needed it and speaking for myself, I needed it badly. My daughter was very young and staying away from family for long hours made me reconsider my choices. I was super unhappy. I knew this lifestyle wasn’t sustainable, but the new found hope of building upon this team without working crazy gave me a sense of comfort. I was so looking forward to this next phase with my team where we could all work together to bring stability in our lives while continuing to deliver excellence in our work. I sort of assumed I would no longer need to choose between work and family. I can have it all. But can I?

Back to that conference room. While I was waiting for my manager, I thought he was going to pass on another congratulatory note and then ask me about my plans for the team. Something that was also top of my mind. I was in a happy place trying to get past all the hustle bustle of the last few months and visualizing how the future will unfold. And then it all ended! 

My manager had a different plan

He stormed into the conference room with a smirk on his face, something that conveyed his sense of high excitement and pleasure. There he was as he got straight to the point “We are planning to start up a new team….more details about the vision of the team.”

He kept going for the next few minutes and then ended with “We would like you to lead and build this team. What do you think?”

What do I think? No response. A long silence, indeed an awkward one. I couldn’t put two and two together. I couldn’t process what he just said. All I can remember were the words in my head ringing loud and clear “No, No, No....No, No.”  

Many people would have jumped right at this opportunity and said “yes,” but not me. It wasn’t part of my plan. It wasn’t something I wanted to do. Yes, the opportunity was great, but it didn’t align with the life I wanted to build for myself and my family. I wasn’t shying away from taking responsibility, it just didn’t seem right at the moment. And there were plenty of opportunities in the current team too. All I wanted was a little bit of stability without having to repeat another cycle of long working hours.  

I felt vulnerable at the moment, but decided to be candid with him. I expressed my concerns about the new team, told him about my daughter and discussed why the current team makes better sense for me at this moment. When the conversation ended, I fooled myself into believing that he would understand. After all, I wasn’t unfair in my request. I was simply being clear about my priorities even though they didn’t align with the plans he had for me. 

He left the room with the last few words “Think about it. It’s a great opportunity.” Since it was a Friday, I had a lot to think about over the weekend. I decided to stick with my decision and conveyed it the next week. 

All of us regularly say yes unthinkingly, or out of vague attraction, or out of greed or vanity.

Because we can’t say no— because we might miss out on something if we did. We think “yes” will let us accomplish more, when in reality it prevents exactly what we seek. All of us waste precious life doing things we don’t like, to prove ourselves to people we don’t respect, and to get things we don’t want...We’re like Captain Ahab, chasing Moby Dick, for reasons we don’t even understand anymore. Maybe your priority actually is money. Or maybe it’s family. Maybe it’s influence or change. Maybe it’s building an organization that lasts, or serves a purpose. All of these are perfectly fine motivations. But you do need to know. You need to know what you don’t want and what your choices preclude. Because strategies are often mutually exclusive. One cannot be an opera singer and a teen pop idol at the same time — Ryan Holiday

That changed everything 

In just a few days, everything changed. His attitude towards me changed. His tone and body language changed. Interactions got more and more painful. I couldn't fathom the thought of someone being so immature about my decision. All I did was say a “no” to something I didn’t want to do.  

It wasn’t like I was refusing to work. I wanted to work on my terms. I was clear about balancing what the organization demanded from me with the expectations I had from my own life. After putting in a lot of thought to my situation, I had a significant realization. The choice was mine. I can continue being miserable and obsess about “why my boss thinks this way” or “I can move on and build the life I want for myself.” 

So I decided to quit. Yes, it was a painful decision, but I never once regretted it. I knew it was the right thing to do. I also had trust in my abilities to land myself another job where I wouldn’t be required to choose between work and life. Where people would respect my decision to not think of my work as my life. Where I can set my own priorities and continue to do great work on my own terms. A life in which work adds to the fun of life and work itself doesn’t become life. 

Saying no is never easy. And saying no to your boss may actually backfire like it did in my case. But, saying yes to things you don’t want to do shouldn’t be an option either. You can either choose comfort in the moment by saying yes and then live with the regret afterwards or you can face brief discomfort in the moment by saying no to live a life in which you can feel at ease with your decisions later. The choice is yours. 

Ending with this thought from Russ Harris, The Happiness Trap “It’s pretty well impossible to create a better life if you’re not prepared to have some uncomfortable feelings.”

Do you have any stories where saying no didn’t go so well for you initially, but looking back it was the right thing to do? I would love to hear them out. 

Previously published here.


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