Saying NO

If you have children, you probably remember the magic of when your child first started to speak. I remember being so excited that the smallest member of the family was going to be able to interact in a new way with us.  I dreamt of all the conversations that we would have and how nice it would be to understand what was on that little mind.

After the delight of hearing your child say mama or dada, the next verbal period revolves around the word “no.”  Most of us have experienced the frustration of the simplest requests we make to our toddlers being answered strongly with “no” repeated several times.  I can remember our youngest running through hall yelling “no” even when we did not ask anything of her.  A recent study in Child Development found that two and three year old children tell their parents “no” on average between 20 and 25 times an hour.  Child psychologists explain this behavior as being related to toddlers starting to assert themselves, developing their own wants, and gaining self-confidence from resisting.

Sometime between age three and five the “no” mechanism slows down.  As children gain more cognitive ability and language skills, they start to use reason to get their way instead of pure emotion.  Another perspective is that they start to learn the gentle art of manipulation.  During this age, we start to learn what adults expect of us and the norms of interaction.  This initial socialization process culminates in most of us becoming adults that rarely tell someone “no” even when they make requests of us we have no intention of complying with and rarely accepting “no” to our own requests no matter how clear the answer is.  In other words, we transform from human beings that anything that does not meet our desires at that moment must be denied to not being able to say or accept “no” as an answer.

There are a variety of reasons of why we fear saying “no” in the workplace: diminish our position in the office, displease our boss, and result in less of a chance for being rewarded in the future.  Outside of those fearing to say “no” stand a group that feels that saying “no” is wrong when the request comes from a supervisor.  A recent interviewee summed up the point very well when he said “I could never tell my boss no since one just does not do that.”

Saying “yes” to everything can damage your reputation, undermine confidence in your abilities, and hurt your career.  It is impossible to deliver high quality work when there is not sufficient time to complete the work. Always saying “yes” creates an environment of failure.   How can we rehabilitate ourselves and learn to say “no” again?

A simple process of analyzing your options can improve your decision-making and help determine the best time to say “no.”  Before deciding how to answer a request at work, consider the following:

  • What am I being asked?
  • What is level of priority to our team, department, and organization?
  • How much time will it take to realistically complete?
  • What is trade-off of saying yes or no?
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