How Can You Practice The Art of Saying No

One of the biggest predicaments we face in life is a situation where you inwardly want to say NO or would like to refuse something but because of certain circumstances you are forced to say YES; does this happen to you very frequently? If your answer is YES (thankfully!!) you will need serious introspection. Many times, we are confronted with a typical situation when someone asks you to do a workout of turn, your immediate response would be, “Yes, of course”! You may think this act of yours pleases people especially your boss, however, this ends up to haunt you later as you become despondent while going through the motions of fulfilling the agenda of someone else. 

Dr. Emily Anhalt, a clinical psychologist says that we blurt out yes because we don’t want to come across as difficult & also, we are keen to preserve relationships. Corporate working especially in countries like India is quite different & complicated when compared to the Western world. Many of us consider “Boss” as always right” and we firmly believe that ‘Agree-culture’ is the only way to survive. When we have such pre-conceived notions, even a straight-forward transparent leader, over a period of time assumes the position of a supreme commander and whatever decisions they take are accepted to be the right ones. This is where many Organizations go wrong - setting themselves up for a big failure which might hit them severely on a future date.  

"When I was working in a factory, I had a boss who used to take Plant rounds with me twice a week for an hour or so. During the initial period, while on rounds, I used to religiously take notes in order to rectify any faults, as many of us felt that ‘it’s the Boss who could see the mistakes”. However, over time I found that even when he saw everything was right, he would still try & find mistakes to make me feel miserable – some people enjoy this; don’t they? One of my colleagues then advised me that before I go for rounds with the Boss, I should remove my brains (ideas) & leave it in my office for an hour & keep nodding my head to whatever he said because he couldn’t take no for an answer! But is this the way an organization should function & are we right in accepting something irrational just because the Leader wants it in certain ways? 

While the entire discussion above hinges around Boss-subordinate relationships, it is no different when it comes to our colleagues, friends or family where we have to muster greater courage to say no. I have observed many people who prefer not to express their point of view (fence-sitters as we call), don’t participate in the discussions & rather agree without a thought but later criticize the whole world! Many families face crisis as the young ones are unable to say no to the older generation which ultimately results in deep misunderstanding! 

It’s easier to preach than to practice the art of saying No: may be the following guidelines could help you: 

  • Understand the issue fully when it’s being discussed, many times we switch off & start thinking halfway through the meeting as to “what answer should we be ready with when asked to speak”; that’s where most of us make mistakes  

  • If you don’t agree with the point that’s being made start by saying “While I understand your point of view, I would like to bring a slightly different perspective to the table”. See if this is acceptable to all, however you should be mentally prepared to go with the majority” – This is the 1st step where you are politely saying NO! 

  • Once you start doing this, you will find yourself getting the support from one or two of your colleagues who might also be sailing in the same boat and wondering as to who should bell the cat first 

  • The other way of saying no, especially in team meetings is to say, “You won’t like to hear what I am going to say but this is my point of view…” (another polite way of saying No) 

  • Never get agitated or animated when you feel like you are not being heard - that’s where your argument gets lost in the din and you slowly lose the respect (and attention) of your colleagues 

  • Practice by saying No to yourself first for some of the decisions you would be taking out of instinct rather than firm conviction 

  • Practice the art of saying No with your family & close friends in different real lifetime situations; observe their reactions & capture the learnings  

It’s very important that you master this art of saying No & once you see the results of your initial attempts, you will subsequently find it easier. You will soon feel self-empowerment, a sense of liberation, the ability to take control & challenge yourself; this will do wonders both in your professional & personal lives! 

About the Author

Mr. P Sriram is a Chemical Engineer & an Operations Professional having around 4 decades of corporate experience having worked in Senior Leadership Roles across large MNCs & reputed Indian organizations like Pernod Ricard, UB group, Shaw Wallace among others. Committed to serve as a leader, continuously develop human capital and apply ethical principles to make world a better place to live” is my personal mission statement in life. Presently serving as A Chief Strategist – DEI Transformation at AVTAR is involved in conducting workshops on Diversity & Inclusion for leading Corporates & Business houses in India. 

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