“No” is a powerful word. “No” is control. “No” is confrontational and assertive. “No” shuts down discussions and doesn’t leave room for negotiation. “No” can be both rude and empowering.
“No Bob, we can’t have a wet T-shirt contest at the company picnic,” seems like a responsible use of the word.
“No Bob, we can’t get you a check today even though there was an error in payroll, that’s outside our normal process,” seems to be a bad use of no and a bad way to run your HR Department.
The judicious application of “No” is important when dealing with clients, employees, managers, vendors, and just about everyone else. If you are providing a service, and HR at its core is about serving others, “No” should not be your favorite word. HR should not be the policy police or a road block keeping people from getting what they need. When we say no to someone, we can take away their sense of agency. Real or not, the perception that you have no choices and no control, especially in a stressful situation, feels awful. HR needs to be better than that because of the personal impact we can have. Relying on “No” to control a situation out of a sense of fear, ignorance, or laziness doesn’t provide a service; it shuts everything down.
One of the basic rules of improvisation is don’t say no, because it effectively stops the scene from moving forward. HR’s role should be to move conversations and problems forward toward appropriate solutions. We can guide and advise. We can use other words like “Yes, but”, “Have you thought of doing this instead”, or even “Let’s work together to find a solution that will work for you.” This isn’t about giving people everything they want, it’s about making sure they are getting what the need and providing the best customer service experience for them while we are doing it.
HR could do a better job if we hold “No” in reserve for the times when we really need it. Like when we need to protect our employees and the company from inequalities and risk. Or when it can ease an employee’s way through a difficult situation. Or even when we have to hold firm to tough decisions that ultimately are in the best interest of the employee.
With great power comes great… blah blah, you know the rest. Let’s all help make HR a force of good out there.