Saying yes is easy, saying no is a skill. And an important skill too, because saying yes too often can get you into trouble and saying nothing is troublesome altogether. So saying no is an important skill to use on a regular basis. Saying no to yourself and saying no to others.
The skill of saying no
Saying no is often associated with negative feelings, like disappointment, anger and loss. That’s why it’s a lot easier to say yes all the time, because people like to avoid situations that evoke those emotions. But at the same time, we don’t feel proud or satisfied with saying yes. It’s a Catch-22, we don’t want to say no and we don’t want to say yes.
So often we reside to other options, but they prove to be even more troublesome than just saying no:
- Saying yes, doing yes
This is authentic. If you say yes, do yes. People will know that you keep your word.
- Saying yes, doing no
This is deception. You try to keep the relationship good at first, but don’t keep your word and end up damaging it in the end.
- Saying nothing, doing yes
This is vague, but mostly if you do not answer people assume that you will say yes.
- Saying nothing, doing no
This is vague and deceptive. People assume that you say yes, but you do the opposite. Plenty of room for an argument.
- Saying no, doing yes
This is confusing to say the least. People will not know what your word is worth, saying no clearly does not mean no.
- Saying no, doing no
This is authentic. If you say no, do no. You might disappoint someone, but you are clear and people will know that you keep your word.
Saying yes and saying no are the only two viable options in the long run. Saying yes is something that most people are very capable of, saying no on the other hand…
To master the skill of saying no, you need to build upon your courage and consideration. Courage is the skill you need for you. It is needed to be able to choose for yourself and say no when you feel or know you have to say no. You might disappoint someone, but you have the courage to bite the bullet and just say it.
Consideration is the skill you need for the other. Taking the needs and wants of the other into consideration is an important skill to assess the impact of saying no. It might not change your decision, but it will prepare you and allow you to get the message across in a respectful way.
Saying no to others
The art of leadership is saying no, not yes. It is very easy to say yes. - Tony Blair
Saying no to others is not fun, but an essential skill if you want to keep your sanity. Tony Blair takes it even a step further and states that the art of leadership revolves around that skill. Leaders tend to be people we respect and value for their opinions and choices(well most of the time anyway). So how do we say no to people and gain respect while doing it?
Stephen Covey writes about this in his famous book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People“. He calls it the public victory and consists of 3 of the 7 habits (Think win-win, Seek first to understand and then to be understood, and Synergize). These hold the key to gaining respect by saying no.
In the six options I listed above, there are only two that can lead to win-win situations. Saying yes and doing yes, or saying no and doing no are authentic responses. But saying yes to unimportant stuff is a clearcut win-lose situation! When deciding what to do, take the mutual gain in mind. What is my win? What purpose does this serve for my goals? Am I depositing on the others Emotional Bank Account? Are they depositing or withdrawing on mine?
Saying yes to something because it leads to mutual gain is the only true win-win out there. If you say no to something that doesn’t lead to mutual gain, you effectively prevent something that ultimately ends up as a lose-lose situation from happening. In this light saying no is a proactive move, whereas mindlessly saying yes is reactive.
Saying no needs consideration and respect for the other, because if it’s not important to you, it doesn’t mean it’s not important altogether. Hear the other out as they are explaining why they want you to do something (seek first to understand). Repeat in your own words what you think they said, to confirm that you understood them (this will gratify them already). Tell them you understand why that’s important to them, and explain them why you are going to say no nevertheless. If people feel understood, you have created fertile ground to say no respectfully. And people will appreciate you for it too.
If you take it one step further, you can build upon what you just achieved. Explore the problem at hand for a moment to find another solution. Finding a new solution that serves both purposes is saying no too, but more creative. You say no to the lose and openly explore how to change it into a win. This will build your image of leadership even further.
Saying no to yourself
It comes from saying no to 1,000 things to make sure we don’t get on the wrong track or try to do too much. - Steve Jobs
But saying no is not exclusively to other people. A big part of saying no is to the one you need the most: YOU! It’s the hardest because the conflict I just described in saying no to others is now internally in you. It’s an internal conflict where a part of you wants to do something and another part in you doesn’t want to do it at all. How do you solve this?
First of all, it’s important to realize that both parts want something that’s good for you. They have a positive intention for you. It might not always be clear what that intention is, and it might need some introspection to uncover it. What positive result does this specific behavior bring you (peace of mind? energy? relaxation?). If you find both intentions, you can follow the same path as with others (more or less). Find a third alternative that will satisfy both needs (and it may even bring an added extra).
Covey talks about the private victory as well. The private victory are the first three habits (Be Proactive, Begin with the End in Mind, and First Things First). These habits are about putting you in control, knowing what you want and knowing your priorities. And if you look closely in the previous section, you’ll see that these are at the foundation of saying no to others.
There’s only one ‘hidden’ assumption in the previous section: you know when you want to say no. You achieve this by knowing what you want and knowing what’s important to you. If you don’t know what you want, or what’s important to you, how are you going to know when to say no? The success you have in the public victory depends a great deal from the success you have in the private victory.
There’s more to it than “Just say NO”
So in the end there’s more to it than just saying no. If you want to do it right, there are no tricks, no secrets, no hacks. For a genuine and lasting result you need to put in authentic effort and respect. Only then will you find Win-Win solutions, and who knows … maybe even more.