Many people find it difficult to say no, so leaders need to ensure that any directions or commands they give are ethical and reasonable.


In general, people are far more likely to cooperate than we might assume. And while this seems to provide an optimistic view of human nature, it isn’t that simple. Superficially, it may seem that people are simply happy to help us out—and often they are. But it’s just as likely people are complying because they find it too awkward to say no. Knowing this can help us understand how our requests might affect others in our workplace; and that we may need to adjust our requests accordingly to respect boundaries. For several years now, researcher and author Vanessa Bohns has been studying people’s willingness to comply with requests from both colleagues and strangers. Her research has led to her new book: You Have More Influence Than You Think. In her book Bohns notes the following:

Most people would rather comply than risk offending.

Bohns was able to use her influence unethically. 

In one experiment, more than half the people approached were prepared to commit a small act of vandalism when asked. 

In another, they were prepared to falsify academic documents. 

By saying ‘no’ to an unethical request, we fear we could be seen as suggesting that the ‘requestor’ is either immoral or selfish—a phenomenon known as insinuation anxiety.

Bohn states that:

“If we want genuine agreement, we should always be thinking of the ways that we can make it easier for others to say no,”


Oct 2020 BBC How to politely and productively disagree

Feb 2021 Psychology Today Ethical Influence: The ethical spectrum of compelling leadership

May 2021 verywellmind Milgram's Experiments and the Perils of Obedience

Sep 2021 Forbes Ethical Leadership In A Complex World