I'm Just A Girl Who Can't Say "No"
The other day I attended a class designed to expand my mind and make me a better businessman. It was titled "How To Effectively Communicate The Fact That You Don't Know How to Communicate Effectively" or something like that.
While it was sort of New Age, touchy-feely, our instructor seemed like a nice enough lady. For the first half hour, all she did was talk about how we do virtually none of our communicating via words, but rather almost all of what we tell others comes from our tone, facial expressions and body language. At least, I think that's all she talked about for the first half hour, because once she told me that thing about words being unimportant, I stopped listening and instead played ninja vs. dinosaur with my pencils (the dinosaurs always win, by the way) and periodically looked up to see if her body language and facial expressions told me anything I didn't already know.
After the break, she proceeded to launch into a "The universe is already filled with too much negativity and you should not add to it. Therefore, I want you to strike the word 'no' from your vocabulary.'" Scenes from the movie "Yes Man" immediately sprang into my mind. Since Jim Carey seemed to have a lot of fun in that movie (he even got to ride on a moped - how cool is that?!) I was all ears. She gave us examples of how to say "no" but in a positive way. Since most of the people in the class worked in retail, all her examples dealt with sales interactions. "If your customer asks for something that you don't have, redirect them to something that you do have. Always offer them something that will help them out, even if it isn't what they came to you asking for.
When it came time to role play and practice this new skill, I came through like a champ. The instructor came up to me during the exercise and we had the following interaction:
New Age Instructor: Hello.
Fat Kid: Hi. Welcome to K mart. How may I help you?
NAI: I would like to know if you have this blouse in an XL?
Fat Kid: We have that blouse in a Large and 2XL (turns to class and gives them a thumbs up)
NAI: But I want to know if you have it in an XL
Fat Kid: We have this other blouse in an XL
NAI: But I want this one
Fat Kid: Ummmm....
NAI (whispering to Fat Kid): Remember, use only positive words
Fat Kid: We have treadmills and stair climbers. They are in aisle six, next to the diet pills (turns to class again and gives thumbs up)
For some reason, she sent me to my seat and ended the role playing exercise. As I sat there, basking in my triumph of demonstrating my new skill for the whole class, I started to ponder. Why is the word "no" so bad? It is unambiguous (after all, "no means no!") and not hard to learn (What part of "no" do you not understand?). In fact, it is so simple,clear, and universally-applicable that it is one of the very few words that kids younger than one year understand, respond to, and can communicate to you.
Awhile back I opined that the word "whatever" is the perfect word. It still is. But "no" must come in a close second. It has a power that few other words have: it sets limits on other people. Not just any limits, but your limits. Telling people "yes" just lets them get away with whatever they want. Telling them "no!" establishes a nice boundary beyond which they should not cross. People need to be told what they can't do. They need to be told "no!" over and over and over again. "Can I have the last cup cake?" NO! "Can I borrow money from you?" NO! "Will you take out the garbage?" NO! "I think I am having a heart attack. Will you take me to the hospital?" NO!
"No" doesn't obligate you to anything - it frees you from having to do things for other people. Saying it over and over makes people eventually stop asking you for stuff (your stuff) and forces them to ask some other person for their stuff. And, if my instincts are correct, when people ask me to do something for them, I know just the New Age instructor that I can redirect people to...a girl who can't say "no"