The power of No

When my children were very small we were being told, as parents, not to use the word “no”. Instead, we were encouraged to couch our feedback in other language that was less black-and-white, to give the kids more of a chance to participate in correcting whatever undesirable behavior was at hand.

I’ve never understood that.  I think perhaps we have raised a whole generation of kids who aren’t used to hearing the word “no” (and I can tell you, from experience, that managing a group of people who aren’t used to the word “no” can be a nightmare).

I don’t seem to have an issue telling my kids “no”. Sometimes I feel a little like it’s my default answer, and that I could perhaps spend 15 or 20 seconds thinking about the question at hand before I use it. But just because you’re able to say no when at home, it doesn’t mean you’ll be able to do it once you leave the house.

Sometimes it seems nearly impossible to say no even though we know, in our hearts, that the situation calls for it. Instead, we let clients, vendors, colleagues, and people on the street win a silent argument every time by refusing to utter it.

Why is it so hard to say no? In my experience, there are a number of reasons. Here are a few of them.

  • We are trying to assist. Most people are inherently helpful and want to please the other party in a conversation. Saying “no” stops the positive interaction dead.
  • We are avoiding confrontation. Many people will go to great lengths to avoid controversy because it is so uncomfortable.
  • We are afraid to say “no” – either because we know the consequences of saying it, or because we DON’T know the consequences of saying it . Either way, we’re afraid of the outcome.

The ugly truth is that avoiding a “no” doesn’t usually make the negative outcome go away, it just postpones it to a later date. In fact, your delay in saying “no” might have the unintended effect of actually making that outcome worse when it finally occurs. Or worse yet, you’ll take on a client, task, or expense you can ill afford to take on.

So give yourself permission to say no. After all, it works with the kids…if they’re listening.

Have you ever had to say no in a business situation? Send your stories to – if I use them I’ll feature your business.