I've written a fair amount of corporate politics, lousy bosses and obnoxious coworkers. However, I haven't revealed all the techniques for coping with them that I've learned and observed over the years.

Therefore, in this post I'm sharing the fine art of stonewalling when you're confronted with pushy or demanding coworkers. This technique won't work with bosses (unless they're very weak) but it positively works on your run-of-the-mill pain-in-the-necks.

Pushy coworkers are always trying to foist their work onto your plate and typically won't take "no" for an answer. And they've got a persuasive answer to every objection that you surface about why you can't (or shouldn't) agree to their demand.

Salespeople are particularly good at this kind of manipulation and may even have been professionally trained to overcome "no" responses. I'm not saying that all salespeople are jerks, but it's jerky behavior to use sales techniques on coworkers.

Rather than fruitlessly attempt to argue your way out of the request, it's more effective to simply stonewall so that the jerk never gets a "handle" on your or your motivation and therefore can't figure out how to manipulate you into agreeing to their request. 

The following three sentences are the foundation, bricks and mortar of an insurmountable stonewall:

1. "That won't work for me."

Just saying "NO" creates multiple openings for a manipulator to turn "NO" into "MAYBE" and then into a "YES." For example:

  • Jerk: "Can you do this for me?"
  • You: "No, I'm too busy."
  • Jerk: "But you're so talented. It'll only take you an hour."
  • You: "But I have to work on the XYZ account."
  • Jerk: "They won't mind if you're an hour late."
  • You: "OK, whatever."

By contrast, when you say "That won't work for me," jerk can respond one of only two ways: 1) "OK, bye." in which case you're off the hook or 2) "Why?" in which case you proceed to the next sentence, which is...

2. "I have my reasons."

The last thing you want to do is provide specific reasons, because then the jerk will explain why those reasons aren't valid and why it makes more sense to do what the jerk wants. Example:

  • Jerk: "Can you do this for me?"
  • You: "That doesn't work for me."
  • Jerk: "Why?"
  • You: "It's not my job."
  • Jerk: "I understand completely. Just so you know, your boss tends to promote people who go the extra mile, especially when it comes to helping coworkers. One of the reasons I'm bringing this to you is because I know it will make you look good if you handle it with your usual efficiency."
  • You: "Well..."
  • Jerk: "And I'll definitely owe you one." (Note: you'll never collect.)
  • You: "OK. Whatever."

By contrast, if you simply state "I have my reasons" without volunteering any specific reasons, the jerk can only respond one of two ways 1) "OK, bye" in which case you're off the hook, or 2) "What reasons?" in which case you proceed to the coup de grace...

3. "Why do you ask?"

Again, if you provide a reason or reasons, you can be talked out of them. By contrast, countering with "Why do you ask?" implies that the jerk's question is out-of-line and then forces to the jerks to justify themselves.

At this point, in almost every case, the jerk will say : "OK. Bye." and go find somebody more pliable who doesn't know how to stonewall. But let's suppose the jerk comes with a justification for knowing your reasons. In that case you jump back to the first sentence:

  • Jerk: "Can you do this for me?"
  • You: "That doesn't work for me."
  • Jerk: "Why?"
  • You: "I have my reasons."
  • Jerk: "What reasons?"
  • You: "Why do you ask?"
  • Jerk: "Uhhh... Well, as you know, our company thrives on collaboration so it's really not appropriate for you to keep your motivations secret."
  • You: "What you say is true but in this specific case what you're asking doesn't work for me."
  • Jerk: "Why?"
  • You: "I have my reasons."
  • Etc.

One last thing. When you're executing this technique, put a sympathetic expression on your face, so that it seems to the jerk that you really do want to help but, gosh, you just can't. Why the sympathetic face? Two reasons:

  1. Seeming sympathetic defends you against accusations of being uncooperative.
  2. Pretending to care makes owning the lazy jerk a hell of a lot more fun.
Published on: Jun 19, 2018