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  • Gary Borland

#29 Saying No



Yes and No – Small words that can transform our lives and our world


Have you noticed how often people say ‘NO’ to something you ask of them or ask them to do? It could be that you hear it more regularly in family situations, particularly where children are involved! In our experience, it’s not often that people directly say ‘NO’. And if they do, it’s interesting to notice the impact on the person making the request when the response is a flat ‘NO’.


The liberal application of social graces seems to be an important element of relationships, of community and, ultimately, of love. But what if those social graces – or the expectation of them – leads us to say Yes, when we actually mean No? We now potentially have the foundations for social tension, fractured relationships, breakdown of community and ultimately, question marks about love.


There are many reasons why we might say Yes when we mean No, but this is unlikely to bring about serious commitment. And in the absence of commitment, opportunities to powerfully impact the people and the world around us are significantly diminished. As we might expect, there are stark cultural variations across the world and in some regions, saying No would be frowned upon. In others, much less so but nonetheless, it seems that a Yes – particularly a caveated Yes – often passes for commitment but is actually a No.


In all the uncertainty created by interchanging Yes and No, it’s unsurprising that people can experience frustration with both themselves and with one another. It’s also perhaps unsurprising that the activities or outcomes we were hoping to achieve can be adversely impacted. The apparent commitment made was never actually a commitment, but rather a way to brush off the discomfort of saying No.


Who’s doing the asking and in what context is important to consider. What hierarchy exists in the organisations we’re part of? Or how about hierarchy in relationships? And how does that hierarchy impact Yes and No? Just because someone says something like ‘You can say No’, doesn’t necessarily make it any more likely that the person will actually say No. Why people say Yes when they mean No can be very complex. But the more muddled Yes and No become, the more difficult it’s going to be to know if there’s real commitment.


Hierarchy, direct instructions and telling rather than asking people all have their place in some contexts. But when this is used too often, it’s likely that people become conditioned to believe that they have no choice and no voice. To elicit freely given, authentic commitment from others is vital if we’re up for impacting the world around us. That applies not only in organisations, but everywhere.


To say Yes powerfully is likely to only be possible where the person or people believe they can also say No. In the next Blog we’ll touch on more aspects of the Yes/No interchange, but for now, perhaps consider how often you say Yes, when you really mean ‘NO’!

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