by Kristi Faulkner
“What if, for the next 24 hours, you said NO to every request that comes your way?”
This was the challenge put to me by Zoe Chance, a professor at the Yale School of Management. Zoe teaches a very popular course called “Mastering Influence and Persuasion” and and at that moment, I had no idea what saying NO had to do with influence, nor persuasion.
“But NO is so…negative,” I argued. “It’s not helpful or constructive, and it’s kind of rude.”
“Actually, NO is a clear choice,” said Zoe. “It’s affirming in its own way, and doesn't have to be negative at all.”
Mastering the Power of NO
“When we make a request, we focus on what it would cost the person to say yes to us,” explains Zoe. “But when someone asks something of us, we focus on what it would cost to say NO.”
I failed the challenge. It’s hard to say NO. Really hard.
But after 24 hours, I did see NO from a whole new perspective. Attempting to say NO made me notice how often my first instinct is to say yes – that is, I always say yes. “Yes” rolls right past the lips, even when the brain is saying “You cannot take on another thing right now!”
“100% of the women I know are actually too giving and too willing to say yes,” Zoe says. At least I’m in good company, I thought.
According to the Global Monitor, 64% of women rate the value of “having the freedom to make my own choices” as an essential guiding principal in life. There’s not much freedom in automatically saying yes. But NO – that’s downright liberating.
Make NO Your Default
Freedom is what NO is all about. And that’s why Zoe advises women to make NO your default answer to almost every request.
- NO is easy to retract. Yes is hard to renege.
- NO acknowledges that you prize personal responsibility. It affirms you know your limits.
- NO has no social cost. You can easily change your mind and say yes later. In fact, a yes later is a thoughtful yes instead of a reactive one.
- NO takes off the pressure of an immediate decision. NO allows you the benefit of more time to think about how you feel about the request.
- NO frees you to consider your opportunity costs. We usually don’t think of what we’re giving up when we jump to say yes – time with family, sleep, exercise – what else would you do with that amount of time or money?
- NO enforces boundaries. NO communicates that though we value our relationships, we will not always allow them to influence us.
- NO demonstrates self-discipline.
NO is The Best Response You Have
Zoe says keep NO friendly and simple. The less you treat NO like a big deal, the less impolite it will feel. And do not be vague about saying NO. Avoid middle-of-the-road responses like, “I’m thinking about it,” or “maybe.” Don’t elaborate, explain yourself or make it complicated – all of which turns NO into something bigger than it is.
Here’s how NO can help make some situations better for everyone:
- When someone is trying to sell you something: Understand that a salesperson is trained to overcome rejections, so say NO and don’t explain why. You don’t owe them a moment of your time, and you are doing them a favor by firmly letting them know you’re not interested.
- When you’re presented with an opportunity that you’re not sure is right for you: You may not be interested in a particular opportunity, but you don’t want the person asking to feel rejected. Lots of times NO starts with “thank you.” Thank you for thinking of me. Thank you so much, I am super busy but I appreciate it.
- When you’re asked for a quick favor: Simply say NO, sorry, good luck, thanks for asking. Don’t elaborate and make it a big deal. Over time, NO will encourage others to respect your time and they’ll think twice before coming to you with requests that aren’t meaningful in the future. Remember, you can always say yes later.
- When your boss is heaping things on your plate: If it seems your boss is dumping work on you, state your current projects and ask which you could eliminate and how to prioritize. Being clear with your boss is an opportunity for your boss to say NO for you.
- When someone is making romantic advances: Women have a hard time saying no to romantic requests – the default should be NO unless you’re a “Heck yes!” but it doesn't have to be NO forever. You can always say thanks for the compliment, give me your number and I’ll think about it. Let them know you don’t want to feel pressured. If it’s a colleague, let them know you’d like to keep things professional.
- When you don’t feel right about something: Sometimes you find yourself in a situation that you sense is a mistake, but you feel trapped. A client request that is hard to commit to. A colleague that you’re uncomfortable teaming with. A social event that you dread attending. NO may not be well-received in these instances, and saying it may make you feel bad, but you know when it is critical to your own well-being that you assert yourself.
How NO Makes Yes Better, Too
Practicing saying NO has made me consider my motivations when I do say yes. A need to feel liked? A desire to be perceived as helpful and generous? A demonstration of my competence – Oh, sure, I can easily easy do that, no big deal? NO has helped me realized how many times my yes wasn’t authentic.
With NO as a default, yes is more meaningful and satisfying than ever. NO has made my yes more energetic, more emphatic. Now, I view yes as a conscious choice to act on my values.
And most importantly, I know that when my heart isn’t in yes, NO gives me the backbone to say so.
Image from http://www.grassrootsy.com