Wednesday, March 12, 2014

To Say or Not To Say ... No!

Once upon a time, a New York art dealer was trying to sell a painting to a Japanese collector.

Responding to her offer, the collector said: I will think it over.

To that, the dealer replied: What’s the matter with you? Can’t you make up your mind?

In part, this was a culture clash. In Japan it is considered impolite to say No. It is impolite to say No to anything. It is customary. Everyone understands the rule and acts accordingly.

American culture is far looser. Most people know better than to say No, but a few believe that anything less than No is inauthentic.

In most cases, saying No feels and is abnormal.

Most of us, when asked to go out to go out to dinner with someone we would rather not spend time with, normally explain that we are too busy or that we have another engagement.

It’s vastly preferable to saying, No, which means, I don’t want to see you. Even without the explanatory addendum, the No, in and of itself, is a rejection. It might make an acquaintance into an enemy.

Elizabeth Bernstein offers a useful example in a recent Wall Street Journal column.

Lesley Ronson Brown knew the woman on the phone asking her to serve on the board of a nonprofit was making a good point, detailing how the group would benefit from her leadership skills. Ms. Brown politely explained that she was busy with other volunteer activities and wanted to spend more time with her family.

The woman kept pleading. So Ms. Brown did the only thing she could think to do: She climbed up on the chair in her office—to feel bigger and more powerful, she says—and "practically growled" her answer. "I was trying to say 'no' in a lower-octave, tall brunette voice," says Ms. Brown, who is petite (and was blonde at the time).

Brown was being polite and courteous. The other woman was being extremely rude.  She should not back Brown into a corner where she has to choose between doing something that she doesn’t want to do and rudely dismissing her.

By insisting on a Yes or No answer, the woman is trying to force Brown to do something she doesn’t want to do.

The point bears emphasis: when someone gives you only two choices, Yes or No, the answer should always be No. You should never say Yes just because it is rude to say No.

More importantly, when someone rejects all of your polite ways of declining an invitation, you should seriously reconsider your commitment to that person.

There are times when one needs to say No. Everyone should be capable of saying it. And yet, when someone refuses to take “maybe” for an answer, you should question his or her character. At the least, he or she is not acting like a friend.

People do not say No because it is morally corrosive, both to the person who says it and to the person who receives the rejection.

Dr. Vanessa Bohns explains it well:

One of our most fundamental needs is for social connection and a feeling that we belong…. Saying "no" feels threatening to our relationships and that feeling of connectedness. 

It feels threatening because it is threatening.

Bernstein elaborates:

Sadly, it often does hurt feelings. "No" is a rejection. Neuroscience has shown our brains have a greater reaction to the negative than to the positive. Negative information produces a bigger and swifter surge of electrical activity in the cerebral cortex than does positive information. Negative memories are stronger than positive ones. All of this is to protect us: A strong memory of something hurtful helps us remember to avoid it in the future.

Hopefully, that includes avoiding people who try to exploit your good manners in order to pressure you into doing something that you don’t want to do.


Jeff Dorsai said...

The best salesman I've ever worked with was a master at avoiding the No. Rather than back a potential customer into a corner with a definitive Yes No question about buying our system he would go thru a series of straightforward questions about their needs and the systems capabilities. For example: You do need a new trading system ? Yes, of course. Do you have a clear picture of what our system has to offer ? Yes, todays demo was illuminating.
Then he would get the No answer out of the way with: Is there anything our system is missing that would be a show stopper in possibly selecting our system ? (the answer 99% of the time was "No you have the functionality we are looking for".)

While he knew that nobody likes to say No he also knew that trying to force a Yes was counterproductive.

His best trick during a demo was when a senior person at the customer would excuse themselves near the end of the meeting/demo (them usually don't stick around for the wrap ups) he would ask them: Is there anything you need more answers to or concerns you about our capabilities ? the answer almost always was "Nope, the system looks good".
So now all of the junior members are left with the seniors guy/gals "Everything looks good" answer hanging over their heads during the wrap up ...

Sales ain't beanbag ...

We lost him on 9/11 in the WTC and the world is a smaller place for that loss ... RIP Scott ...

Ares Olympus said...

It's relatively easy to adapt to social reality that giving excuses means a polite "no", and yet there is an inauthenticity there that causes problems because your mind is focused on a credible excuse and you may not even be aware of why you needed to say no, so it is a "white lie" that hurts the teller as much as the listener.

You lose touch in who you are, and why you do things, and that's the life addicts live for instance, always shifting responsibility outside of the immediate moment.

My own personal rule on "white lies", and seeing my own ability to seamlessly confabulate an excuse on the spot is that if my excuse is questioned or an attempt is made to bridge it into a maybe later, it is my social duty to not be defensive at the question, but recognize the person asking needs clarity of intention from me, and ask myself what's the real reason I want to say no, since I generally do like to help people.

On the other side, when I've delayed asking an important question from someone, when their words and actions do not match, and I need to know their intentions, I'll play out both answers in my mind before I ask a simple question that can have a yes or not answer. I'd imagine what I'd feel with a yes, and what I'd feel with a no, and when I trust I'm willing to hear both answers, I feel I've earned the right to hear an honest No rather than nonsense excuses that avoid an uncomfortable question.

Marshal Rosenberg talks about saying no in his nonviolent/compassionate communication, like here. Marshall identifies what he calls Jackal (intellect) and Giraffe (heart) language.

Ares Olympus said...

I recall the terrible-two's are about saying no, and myself, never being a parent, I can't say I understand how that phase resolves or how parents can best help socialize this need for autonomy and self-determination.

Passive-aggressive behavior may be about a lack of trust, that you can express yourself and your needs and have them respected. So even if "no" isn't polite, encouraging avoidance isn't helpful either in navigating on-going relationships.

Brené Brown talk about saying no in setting good boundaries with people, and so you have to practice somewhere.
"I need something to hold on to—literally—during those awkward moments when an ask hangs in the air. So I bought a silver ring that I spin while silently repeating, 'Choose discomfort over resentment.' My mantra reminds me that I'm making a choice that's critical for my well-being—even if it's not easy."

Ares Olympus said...

Please excuse a third reply, but this is interesting to me, found another source, from the point view of codependency, where you "pride" yourself on your good manners, and cooperativeness, while saying yes, when you want to say no, so the article says this is false-pride, and self-respect is the answer to it.

So this article agrees fully with: "You should never say Yes just because it is rude to say No."

So the take that I get is "saying no is hard", and "good social graces" allows for more subtle communication for avoiding unnecessary tension among "mature adults" who understand the nuances of good social graces, but this skill can be abused as any other, so it must be used carefully.

Like the quote "Tact is the ability to tell someone to go to hell in such a way that they look forward to the trip.", possibly by Winston Churchill

Thinking also about power and status, I remember reading about "narcissistic injury" when we're told "no", and so there's some rule I think that lower status people GAIN status by saying "no" to higher status people, and if the higher status person is grounded in his own being, without needing to defend his status, he doesn't have to listen to his prideful narcissistic injury and can instead recognize a 2-year old who never got away with telling off his mother or father, and now you've been given the honor of his reclaiming his right to say no.

Anonymous said...

"No" is a compete sentence.


Class factotum said...

It's not hard at all. I learned this when I lived in Memphis: "Oh I wish I could but I can't! Thank you so much for asking. Goodbye."