The Non-Verbal Language of No: How Creative Leaders Balance Expectations and Engage Team Members
Updated: Mar 12
Many of us have experienced a situation where someone says yes to a request, but their body language or tone of voice suggests otherwise. This kind of behavior can be frustrating and confusing, leading to misunderstandings and unmet expectations. Why is it so hard for some people to simply say no?
There are many reasons why individuals might struggle with being direct about their concerns. One is fear of conflict or hurting someone's feelings. It's natural to want to avoid unpleasant interactions, but by avoiding direct communication, we can create more problems in the long run.
Another reason is a desire to be seen as helpful or a team player. We want to be seen as dependable and supportive, so we may agree to things we don't really want to do to maintain that image.
Projecting that we're willing to help when we're not creates problems leading to broken promises, unmet expectations, and missed deadlines. It also prevents open and honest communication, which can lead to missed opportunities and lack of growth in the workplace.
So, what can organizations do to promote directness and create an environment where disagreement and creative problem solving is, okay?
Many organizations struggle with priority overload. Engaging employees in a discussion about how to prioritize their work is key to empowering employees to focus on their activities in productive ways. I recommend using the Now/Near/Far system. When reviewing all the priorities, dialogue about the activities that can be accomplished now, those that need to be completed in the near term and those that are important to complete in the long term.
Now = Red Near = Green Yellow = Far
Leadership Practice: When emergent issues arise, employees and teams appreciate the leader openly identifying that we must adapt to the current challenge/opportunity and reset expectations regarding the list of priorities.
To empower individuals and teams avoid describing “how” a goal should be accomplished.
Leadership Practice: When engaging individuals and teams describe the “what”, not the “how”. Sharing “what” needs to be accomplished and that you are interested in their thinking about “how” to accomplish empowers individuals and teams to discover multiple solutions to solve for the result.
Depending on the relationship, this may throw an employee or team for a loop. If the culture is one where employees have become dependent on leaders sharing all the information regarding: who, what, when, why and how, it will take some time and effort to change the cadence and content of the exchange.
Leaders, often, are expected to know how to complete a task. Give yourself a break, even if you know one way to complete a task, it is likely that there are others.
Leadership Practice: Leaders can create opportunities for discussion by sharing “I’m uncertain about all the possibilities to achieving the goal. Can we whiteboard this together?” Even without an actual whiteboard, employees and teams understand that the content (pictures, diagrams, words, processes) are easily changed and adaptable as possibility discovery occurs.
Recognizing employees and teams for new solutions is important to building a creative and motivational culture.