Just Say No

I teach people how to hear “Yes!” In fact, my branding slogan is “Helping You Learn to Hear ‘Yes!’” However, sometimes you have to “just say no” and it’s not always easy. Consider the following:

  • “Just say no to drugs.” Parents and educators used this slogan to combat drugs in school. It’s easier said than done because parents and teachers are not combating the power of peer pressure.
  • Saying no to your boss. This can be especially difficult because some people feel they’re not allowed to say no to anyone who has authority over them. Others feel saying no to the boss is tantamount to admitting weakness.
  • Saying no to your child or spouse. We all want to be liked and hate to disappoint. Both of those feelings are magnified with those we love and quite often we’ll give in to those people in ways we never would with others.

No matter who you are or what the circumstances, learning to say no is extremely important. You may not know this but Robert Cialdini undertook the study of persuasion because he said he was a patsy. He wanted to know why he always said yes to people who made requests of him. Feeling comfortable saying no is so important that each chapter of Cialdini’s best selling book Influence contains ways to combat the principles of influence when you feel they’re being used unethically against you.

I want to quickly share a story with you about our daughter, Abigail, and learning to say no. When she was in the 6th grade her class went to a camp along with other schools and my wife, Jane, went as a chaperon.

Jane said a rule at camp was this; if kids didn’t finish all of their food during mealtime the table had to sing. Abigail’s table didn’t finish all of their food at one meal and was required to sing. Abigail stood with her classmates but didn’t sing because she doesn’t like to sing. The counselor noticed her not singing and let everyone sit down except Abigail. She told Abigail she had to sing.

According to Jane, Abigail told the counselor she didn’t like to sing. The counselor said she’d get Abigail to sing and Abigail replied, “No, you won’t.” A battle of wills ensued. Eventually Abigail’s friend’s stood up and said they’d sing with her but she refused. She never gave in.

Shortly after that Abigail and I were driving and I said, “Mom told me what happened at camp.” I’m sure Abigail thought she was going to get in trouble but instead I said, “I’m really proud of you.” She asked why and I told her, “It’s important to learn to say no because if you don’t some people will take advantage of you. But there can be consequences if you say no to someone who has the right to ask you to do something, like a teacher. So, you have my permission to say no but choose wisely.”

I think parents have much more impact on their kids than they realize, especially when kids know mom or dad has their back. I believe my affirmation of Abigail that day gave her confidence to say no. Throughout high school she said no to sex, drinking, drugs and many other things she didn’t agree with. She said no despite the peer pressure to do otherwise. That strength of character gives me confidence as she gets ready to transition from college to living on her own in the future.

The same logic applies in business. I believe employees who know their boss has their back will feel more comfortable saying no when the situation dictates that’s the right response.

A couple of question to ponder as we close. First, do you give significant people in your life permission to say no? Second, do you work with those same people on how they might say no in a way that’s less offensive but still assertive? Those are two skills that will serve your loved ones and employees well.

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