The very story of a ‘No’…


I recently heard some friends, uncomfortable, blaming themselves for having accepted a task they did not want to do. It was not the first time, they knew they would regret it, but they said yes and – guess what – felt upset about it. The question that came to me, straight, was : what would be the path for a light and illuminated ‘no’  ? A ‘no’ you would be comfortable with and would wear with a smile. Here is my fist take.

What are the conscious reasons why you would say no, in working situation, when you have the choice.

First. You don’t like the task – or you don’t like the person you would have to work with.

Second. You like the proposal, but you have other things to do, more urgent.

Third. You are neutral but don’t get any benefit for doing it.

Whatever. First, second, third. You should not be ashamed for any of those reasons. Cause you have the right to follow your own agenda. Working on things and with people you like, having a personal objective, or wanting to get a benefit from your work. Money, reward, fame, repeat after me, you have the right to expect something from the time you are spending working. So if you have the choice, saying no in one of those scenario, is highly recommended.

Fourth case, where you would say no. Your first intuition yells ‘SAAAAY NOOOOOOO‘ – and you don’t know exactly why. Do you have to decide ‘no’ ? I’d say yes. I mean yes, you should decide that you won’t do that. Because you have to trust your intuition – unless you are in a bear mood and you perfectly know your judgement is altered, in which case, you should defer your decision. But in normal situation, your brain is able to analyze a situation in a heartbeat and give a diagnostic : shitty situation, beware danger, really don’t feel it, never ending story coming, unreachable goal…You usually feel it. Unless the request is coming from an unknown person, on an unknown topic for an unknown deliverable. In that case you should decide either that you are not the right person to do that stuff (which means say no), or you should request additional information, delay your answer, in order to have all those clear and known.

Now that you understand the reason(s) why you want to say no, between you, yourself and your brain, the next question is.

Do you have to tell the people that your final decision is no ?

I guess it depends. I am the kind of person saying no and explaining why. A one sentence answer, with enough details to make sure I am understood (and not hated), and keeping for myself the backstage stuff, the various pro and cons. But I recently had a cool conversation with a friend of mine (@valvert) and he suggested that sometimes, when you are in a specific dynamic, with limited resources and managing important challenges (yes, that guy is organizing e-commerce events and need to deploy a-lot-of-energy), in that special case, stopping a second to tell ‘no’ to someone has some disadvantages : you loose your time and energy, breaking your positive dynamic, and eventually, you loose a chance to have that person subscribing to your own project and vision. That is a story I can understand.

There may have other strategies and I am curious to know yours ! In the end, each of us has to find its own method, depending on its energy, communication skills, ability in conflict management and mood.

Why is it important to understand the very story of a “no” ? Because understanding your decision (I am not going to do that because that guy puts on knees anyone working with him) and identifying what will be your explicit answer (dropping an email saying that you are too busy to spend energy on that project) makes you stronger. Then, you are confident that your decision was not a caprice. You made an explicit choice that will be easier to defend, if required. In addition, if any of the decision making parameters change, you will be able to change your mind with no friction. All benefits for you !

An aside question came to me when I wrote that post : how do we learn in our society to say no ? As a french girl, going at school, I don’t remember when I was taught how to say no. I had some kind parents, taking time to explain me the life, the good, the bad, (well, their version of it, that I later amended). As an adult, I still have the feeling that saying no is an offense. Thus. The real open question to me stands in when are we able to construct our “no” skills. A next post may deal with that…

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