Saying no nicely is a skill that serves you well in all things great and small. This weekend, we were sitting in our living rooom in the middle of the day, and there was an unexpected ring at the door. I opened it to see who it was. A smiling man with a coupon book in his hand gave me his quick pitch about free raffle coupons and something to do with water-purifyers. He was a pleasant enough fellow, he spoke well, and he was trained in all the subtle tricks of the trade. As he talked about the free coupon, he tore one out at the perforated edge in a seamless move while never looking down at his hands, and held it ready to offer to me. I listened quietly and then said no. I didn’t slam the door on his face or anything, I just thanked him but said we weren’t interested. He in turn thanked me for my time and that was that.
This sort of thing happens regularly in everyday life, there’s always someone trying to sell you something. It could be a product at your door, a project at work, an idea amongst friends. The selling never stops. You try to sell people on your ideas too. That’s the way we work. What gets us into trouble is that we are scared, or shy, or feel guilty to simply say no. This compulsion to agree with everyone and accept everything thrown at you is the cause of more troubles in life than any other single trait.
Learn to Say No
There have been numerous articles, books, and much self-help gobbledygook written on the subject of saying no. They go into techniques, and strategies, and tips, and tricks, when the simple fact of the matter is that to say no, all you need to do is SAY NO. It’s a one word, one step process, and no amount of delaying it by studying techniques is going to help you muster the courage to make the leap.
Growing up, we learn to like pleasing people, because it makes them like us. Even if we don’t like pleasing people, we still find that it is much more convenient than disappointing them. This makes saying no an up-hill struggle, because if nothing else, we are a species of convenience. We’ll go to any lengths of inconvenience for the sake of some token convenience. It doesnt make any sense, but that’s the way it is. Have you seen people driving around in their car for half an hour trying to find a parking near the front door of where they’re going, rather than parking easily elsewhere and walking for ten minutes? Exactly, you’ve probably done it yourself.
Saying no is like finding a parking at a distance and walking. Sure it means facing the inconvenience first and head on, but it’s all good after that. By not saying no when you should, you’re just driving around in circles, trying to delay the inevitable inconvenience for as long as you can. Most likely, you’ll have to eventually give in and make that long walk to the mall anyway, only now the inconvenience has grown because you couldn’t make a decision. Not only do you need to walk, not only are you now aggitated and cursing unknown drivers who cut you off, you’ve also wasted 30 minutes you could have spent relaxing indoors. Suck it up and just say no!
Once you have made that mental decision to say no, all the techniques in the world are useless, except one which also requires very little explanation: it pays to say no nicely. Unfortunately, that’s rare too.
The No Tantrum
We hate saying no, but we’re often pushed into it by sheer necessity, so most of us don’t do it very well. How many times have you heard these: “Stop wasting my time!” or “That’s the worst idea I’ve ever heard!” or “I wouldn’t use your magical gold spinning services if you were the last magical gold spinner on the Earth!”? … not exactly those things maybe, but something similar. No matter who you are, or what you do, those should sound very familiar, either because you hear them often, or because you say them often. But what they all mean, is “No, thank you.”
Instead of saying “No, thank you”, what most of us actually say is, “I won’t go, I won’t go, I WON”T GO! And you can’t make me Mommy!”, and then we proceed to stamp your feet and try to hold your breath until we pass out. The act of saying no often turns into a childish tantrum, and a childish tantrum is an act of helpless frustration rather than one of strength and confidence. It’s natural for children to do it in some situations, they are often helpless and frustrated, as are many cluless parents, which is why they get into tantrum stand-offs with their kids so often, but I digress. A tantrum means you know you’re going to have to give in eventually. A tantrum either pisses the other person off, or it tells them that you’re likely to waver if they just push a little harder, neither of which helps. Saying no while indicating that you might not be so sure, is not the best way to go about it.
Saying No Nicely or The Polite No
A firm and polite no is more final. The fact that you aren’t trying to asphixiate yourself in protest or shout your lungs out in anger usually means that you are sure of what you’re saying, and you aren’t going to budge. If you aren’t going to budge, the average salesman or woman knows you’re a waste of their time. Their best option then is to return the politeness and move along to better prospects. This is all human nature, whether or not you’re being sold a 36-volume encyclopedia, the same principles hold.
Beyond the convenience and time-saving of saying no nicely, there is also the fact that it engratiates you to the person you said no to. Remember how I said we hate saying no? Well, the fact is most of us hate selling too. We’re embarrased by it, although the best sales people learn to hide that embarrasment behind a veneer of savvy confidence. When someone fights their embarrasment to “sell” or ask for something, berating them for it will just make them more embarrased or angry. Being polite is often a bit of human consideration that they don’t expect but welcome. Now they are thankful to you for saying no the way you said it. How can you possibly let go of that opportunity?
Saying No to Yourself
The most difficult no to say is to yourself. Every decision you make, no matter how big or small, often involves a bit of internal dialogue between your own conflicting opinions. This is really no different than the situations I’ve described above. One part of you, or several parts of you, are trying to convince you to do something, but the CEO of your mind, you, can’t get yourself to refuse, even though you know you shouldn’t indulge whatever it is you’re about to. We often indulge our destructive fancies, and just plain unhealthy or unreasonable tendencies, just because we can’t say no even to ourselves. Especially to ourselves.
Again, our first instinct is to shout at ourselves or shake our arms about in self deprecation for considering such things. But, even when it comes to the salesmen within, all you need to say is “No, thank you”, nicely. The same benefits apply.
I keep hearing that being a jerk is easy. I think it’s too much work. There are all those cutting insults to invent, all those forceful tirades to go into, and all those blood-pressure-raising arm movements to execute to convice your victim you are serious. As I said, too much work. If you’re refusing something, does it really help to call the legitimacy of anyone’s parenthood into question? Sure, maybe the guy you’re saying no to really is the illegitimate son of a three-humped camel, as you boldly claim, but does it matter when you are saying no and won’t have to deal with him further? Probably not.
First, learn to say no. It’s essential, and the only trick to it is to jump right in and say it as quickly as possible. And then, learn to say no nicely. Practice the fine but simple art of the polite no, and you will save youself a lot of time, suffering, and driving around in circles to get where you actually want to go. Sold? Good.