“No” is a powerful word, but it’s a tricky one to say at work. Using it when your boss assigns a project you’re not thrilled about or when your manager sets an outlandish sales goal isn’t realistic. Saying no to suggested changes after a poor performance review isn’t an option — if you want to keep your job.

There’s an art to disagreeing without being disagreeable. It starts by understanding how to effectively communicate differing viewpoints, concerns and opinions. They’re the types of conversations that become routine for athletes who are asked by coaches and managers to make adjustments, perform at a certain level, take on different roles and in some cases, even accept a demotion. Athletes aren’t always on board initially, but saying, “No,” and walking away won’t make the situation any better.

Seattle Mariners manager Scott Servais and starting pitcher Marco Gonzales have plenty of experience navigating these types of conversations. Their approach can help you get the most out of the give-and-take conversations that require a little pushback.

Establish a track record. If you’re the one pushing back against a manager, make sure you’ve already established a track record, says Gonzales. “You need to have a foundation to be able to stand on when you push back,” Gonzales says. “If you have built a career and worked hard, authority figures will be more likely to respect where you’re coming from.”

In addition, Gonzales advises cultivating relationships with managers and authority figures so you can collectively navigate the issue in a way that benefits both parties. Which brings us to …

Work together to find a solution. When you’re in a position to initiate a conversation that has the potential for pushback, like the kind Servais has with players who are being asked to make adjustments or accept a different role, be prepared to offer a solution.


For Servais, it goes like this: “I explain what they’re really good at, then give them areas of growth that need to happen,” he says. “But I never end the discussion with that. I also say how I’m going to help them get there or get back on track.”

Too many times, Servais says, we just want to tell somebody what they can’t do or what they’re not good at, but we don’t give them the solution of how we’re going to help them improve.

See the other side. You’re not always going to agree on the outcome, but you certainly won’t reach the resolution you hoped for if you let emotions get the best of you. Get curious instead of defensive.

“There’s just that understanding of perspective,” Gonzales says. “Whether it be a coach, teacher, manager or GM, try to understand where each other is coming from.”

As the conversation progresses, recognize that your words have power and choose them carefully, Gonzales says. “I hope that what comes out of those conversations is meant to build up and not tear down someone else’s beliefs.”

Ask why. If you don’t agree, ask questions until you can reach the point of understanding the bigger picture.


“I’ve often told young players it’s OK to ask why,” Servais says. “I tell them, ‘It’s your career and somebody is going to ask you to make adjustments along the way. It’s OK to ask why.’”

Manage the next conversation. Let’s say you push back against your manager, and the situation or answer remains the same. Now it’s up to you to manage your reaction. The way you convey your emotions in the next conversation will influence your manager’s reaction to the situation. If you are upset, his or her natural response will be to mimic you.

Take a breath. Find a sounding board and craft a thoughtful response before reacting to your first emotion.

It isn’t always easy, but developing effective pushback strategies is necessary for effective communication and growth.

“Growth requires these types of conversation,” Gonzales says. “You can’t grow and do that at a high level if you’re not willing to accept another opinion.”

Which means you don’t want to say no to mastering these conversations.

Jen Mueller is the author of “The Influential Conversationalist” and a sports broadcaster based in Seattle. (Courtesy of Jen Mueller)
Jen Mueller is the author of “The Influential Conversationalist” and a sports broadcaster based in Seattle. (Courtesy of Jen Mueller)
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