The Most Difficult Answer: December 2011

Most people don’t realize that saying NO is the most difficult answer one has to deliver at any time.

Whether it’s to a child who wants to watch her favorite TV show during your particular sports broadcast, or as an executive of a company, saying “NO” to a particular (capital, acquisition or human resource) request, all NOs require, raising our blood pressure, feeling guilty, being upset and possibly sulking for hours after you have delivered the negative answer.

Why is saying NO so difficult? I thought two-year olds learn to say NO very early in their lives!

I believe it has something to do with our innate desire to be liked, loved, accepted.

I have a friend, who is so petrified to say NO, he avoids any commitment, sidestepping every answer; “Join us for dinner?” – the answer is, “I will try my best”.

In Arabic, there is the classic phrase, “Inshallah” (God Willing). During my decade of dealings in the Middle East, when a customer or a sales rep says that Inshallah the purchase order will arrive soon – you understand the low probability. They just don’t want to “insult” you with a NO – and resort to putting everything in the invisible hands of forces up there! – I am glad that my Western friends haven’t made many Arab friends to pick up this magical NO phrase!

Similarly, In Bangla, there is a clear phrase, “Shobi Allahr (or Bhogobaner) Iccha” (Everything is God’s Will). The phrase is usually accompanied by a circular hand-wringing and looking up at the sky!  I have heard stories of future father-in-laws using this phrase to deny the proposals of potential suitors for their daughter; instead of saying a direct NO, use this as a graceful Exit Strategy!

My sixteen-year old will sometimes ask for something that I just cannot bring her, immediately. I have a tried a few different tactics (without saying NO) with mixed success.

First, I try to rationalize, and negotiate; well, we can by the new Wii, if you are willing to come up with half the funds! Or, you can sleep over at your friend’s house, if you finish the essay that’s due next Wednesday. Inside, I am praying , that she can’t pull off a miracle and there just isn’t enough time or resources to complete my unreasonable request.

Similarly, at work, when someone comes requesting for more human resources for their team, I typically connect it with increased revenues. Show me the money, baby! If you can bring an incremental revenue base, it’s very easy to say YES!

It amazes me most, when executives will bring proposals that (they know) don’t pass muster – but they do so, just to hear that NO (from a higher authority) and then relay it back to their teams that “senior management” refused to invest in their idea! This way, they don’t have to say NO to their teams!! Come on, let’s grow up – my six-year old has better sense than that!

I have noticed that some days are just NO saying days; at the end, refusing to budge from positions, or denying requests for investment capital – my shoulders hurt – I am so tired that I have a hard time keeping my eyes open.

Recently, during a personal calamity, I was bombarded by “well-wishers” to do something that they firmly believed was in my best interest ! I could’ve taken the path of least resistance and succumbed to their urgings; but, it was eating away at my core to have to say NO to so many people! One stressful evening, I had to put an end to a twenty-two text conversation by telling someone to just stop harassing me!

Wouldn’t it be easy, if we could just say YES to all requests and could smile and agree to everything!

Saying YES, is easy and smooth like water. It flows without friction and heals cracked openings – soothing over hurt and pain.

But as an adult, a parent, a leader, or a just as a rational human being – we have to learn to say NO. I have a firm belief, most “normal” human beings don’t like to use the word NO; they have to say it to protect their own interests.

The important skill, I believe, is to learn how to turn the decision back to the requestor – by asking something back in return that is may even be bigger than the request they are making. At that point, the requester understands that there is absolutely no way to accomplish this mammoth task without changing course on their own.  So teach them how to process a “NO” more.

In our lives, the more we say YES, we are better off; let’s try to find ways to say NO less. The only way to make that happen is to teach others to say the NO first – that way the question/request doesnt even appear in-front of you!


4 thoughts on “The Most Difficult Answer: December 2011

  1. I really enjoyed reading this. I learned the importance of saying no much later in life. I’m not sure if I can do it with ease still. I agree with the desire to be liked and accepted by others. To add to this, I’m also intrigued by energy that it takes to get to the point of saying no to someone. I feel exhausted afterwards even though it is a relief. Another thing I noticed is the number of times people have to repeat saying no before it is believable. I’m probably responsible for not sounding believable.
    Again, great topic. Is the joy and pain of saying yes next? Lol

    1. Thanks. I am glad you enjoyed it. I agree with you that often I say NO to people and they keep coming back and asking for the same thing in a different way! Don’t they hear us???

  2. Saying NO may raise the blood pressure, but sometimes it is an easier path than saying YES. YES means hat you are going to suppot the decision which can take a lot of effort, and also share in its success or failure. It can be much easier to hide behind a NO.

    I remember when daughter asked me if she could spend a semester studying in Brazil. My immediate response was a firm NO! Too expensive, too dangerous, study was too un-focused. But she eventually wore me down and it ended up being a rewarding experience for her and me as well. I am glad I ended up with a YES on that one, and now I am more open to putting my resources behind ideas that are a little uncomfortable for me, as long as there is sufficient commitment from the person asking the question.

    1. Rick: You are so correct! Sometimes NO is the easier path! But saying no rattles most people. I hope one day, I also have the wisdom to learn to say YES more and be more open to uncomfortable decisions! Thanks for your feedback!!!

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