The Anatomy Of No

Why is it that a word with only two letters and one syllable can be so complex?  I don’t know the answer to that, but it is.  I have come to believe however, that it is not the word itself that is the problem, it is how it is delivered.

I have been on the receiving end of my share of “no” responses over the years, and in many of those cases, I expected that what I was asking was not going to meet with immediate acceptance.  But what sticks with me yet today is not the rejection, but the delivery of it.  People have difficulty saying “no” tactfully. In some cases I suspect, it is because they do not want to say “no” but have to, so they feel trapped and respond with anything from a curt “no” to something like “what would make you even ask me a question like that”  or “that was a stupid question”, successfully putting the onus back on the requester, while hiding their own discomfort.

When personally placed in the position of saying “no”, I prefer to use what I call the “velvet hammer”. A response forceful enough to assure understanding, but soft enough to preserve the integrity of the requester.   A colleague once told me that I had a knack for “telling a person to go to hell and make them look forward to the trip”.  I’m not sure that is the case, but I have always thought there is a right and wrong way of saying no.

 If you take a moment to review the request, most of the time they fall into one of two categories.  The first generates an immediate mental rejection.  The second is a request not wholly unreasonable that could have some merit.  In the first case, a response of “I cannot approve that” or “I do not agree with that” followed by “and here is why”, says to the other person “I heard you, but I must say no for this reason”.  In the second case, an appropriate response may be “let’s think about this for a minute” or “tell me more about your idea”.  You haven’t agreed, but you haven’t dismissed it either. And you have maintained the esteem of the requester.

The advantage, I think, of being able to effectively say “no” is that you leave the door open to further communication.  If you know that any request is going to summarily be rebuked, you are not prone to make further suggestions.  A lot of great ideas have been lost in this fashion.   

Probably a lot of what I say here would be considered “so yesterday” since electronic communication not only allows us to say “no” via proxy, but generally, there is no motivation to remain civil since you are looking at a screen instead of a person.  The request loses any vestiges of feelings.  It’s just lines on a screen.  But the facts have not changed.  There is a person on a screen somewhere that is going to receive the same message, whether it is received in person or not.  And their reaction and the result is going to be the same.

I  believe  people respect those that can say “no” tactfully (unless it is your wife in which case there is never a way to tactfully say no without retribution:).  I know I do.  I would rather know my idea has landed on the cutting room floor, but it was the idea, not me, that had been rebuked.

And there you have it.  Another lesson in Rejection 101.  Any questions?  Good.  Because the answer is NO.  Just kidding.

About oldmainer

I am a retired manager living in Southern Maine and a would be writer of poetry, narratives, short stories, and random opinions, and that's how Oldmainer was born. Recently, I decided to try an experiment. I added photography to the mix, using only a cheap cell phone with a limited camera and the editing software that came with it, and added the blog site Inklings at to showcase the results. So, feel free to use whatever you find interesting or worthy, but please honor the terms of my copyright when and if you do. They may not be much, but they are still a piece of me. I appreciate your checking me out and hope that you find something that will encourage a return visit. Thanks for stopping by.
This entry was posted in Commentary, Opinions, Random Thoughts, Reflection, Self Esteem, Senses, Uncategorized, Unity and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to The Anatomy Of No

  1. laurie27wsmith says:

    I never had much problem saying no when I worked in prison. ‘Boss, I want…?’ NO. ‘How about …? NO. “Can I…?’ NO. I t wasn’t difficult at all. When it’s a friend or loved one…………….. Dodgy, very dodgy this is where tact comes in. 🙂


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