Three positive techniques for rejecting worker requests

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Rey Elbo

In The Workplace

Last week, I disapproved a request by my assistant for the purchase of a new laptop computer to replace a five-year old model. He claims the defective laptop contributes to delays and difficulties in doing his job. I told him to wait for next year as we don’t have a budget for it. In the meantime, I told him to use a desktop computer that is available for use by anyone in the department. Since then, he appears to be sending in defective reports, if not delaying submission. I’m not sure how I handled the rejection. But how do I handle similar situations in the future? — Cooling Off.

In the “Peanuts” cartoon strip, Snoopy is getting his usual dog food for a Thanksgiving Day dinner, and he is aware that everyone else in the family inside the house is having turkey. He meditates and talks to himself: “How about that?” Everyone is eating turkey tonight, but just because I’m a dog I get dog food.”

He trots away and positions himself on top of the doghouse and concludes: “Of course, it could have been worse. I could have been born a turkey.”

In the same way, you should hope and pray that it does not become worse, when he tries to send in another request for other things, just to test your limits. What if he goes on an unscheduled leave under the pretext of an emergency situation or feign an illness, among other things to make it difficult for you? How would you handle it?

Regardless of the nature and reason behind employee requests, there will be times when there is no option but to reject them.

The trouble is that almost everyone in management wants to be liked by the workers. And rejecting unreasonable or frivolous demands go with the job, which makes it difficult for anyone in people management to do just that. Of course, rejecting certain employee requests is very difficult to do.

That’s why you have to soften the “blow” and make it palatable to those concerned. Now, try the following tactics for size and adjust accordingly depending on certain situations:

One, reconcile the interests of both the workers and the organization. That should be the first thing to do. If that’s not possible, then emphasize that everyone must yield to the greater interest of the majority (other stakeholders) and the company in general. For instance, there will be time when a worker would want to reschedule his working hours to complete a post-graduate course or attend to some family concerns, like bringing a child to school.

In this case, try to be as flexible as possible in working out something. You can help the employee work out a schedule with the help of another person who can be a stand-in during such periods. Even if you fail to recruit another person to take up the slack, your genuine efforts are helpful in reducing the rejected worker’s resentment.

Two, understand carefully the letter and spirit of a specific worker’s request. Stop whatever you’re doing and look the person in the eye while listening actively. It’s easy to tune people out if you continue working on your computer, even if you tell them that you’re listening. Your body language is more than enough to betray your inattention. If this happens, the workers will readily assume that you don’t care much about them.

To establish the right environment, go to a private board room where you can show interest in a worker’s issue and offer encouragement, if needed. It would also be helpful to say something positive like “that’s very interesting” or “I understand your current situation” except that you should be careful in giving a false impression that you’re approving the request.

Three, be patient while listening to the workers’ concerns. Sometimes, people can’t readily express their message due to emotion, and take time to get to the point for some reason. The best approach is to put yourself in the position of the worker and this will readily help you concentrate on what he’s trying to say. Whatever the case, don’t make any hasty conclusions or interrupt the worker even before he completes his statement.

Treat the matter seriously, even if it appears too trivial or of no importance to you. In many cases, you must understand that minor issues are simply a cover for a much bigger or serious grievance that the employee is trying to hide because it is too sensitive or involves someone holding a higher position. It’s better to understand the context so that you can act accordingly.

In general, when you turn down a worker’s request, be as positive as possible every step of the way. And be sure that you’ve not approved a similar request in the past, which could make you look irresponsible. If necessary, don’t be rushed into making a decision. Ask for the right time to think about the request, and honor the time you promised.

ELBONOMICS: “No” means something else — next opportunity.


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