The "No" Principle

Bronnie Ware is an Australian songwriter, author, blogger and creative soul. She recently released a book titled The Top Five Regrets of the Dying, wherein she shares the sad thoughts of people she met in palliative care:

1. I wish I'd had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
2. I wish I didn't work so hard.
3. I wish I'd had the courage to express my feelings.
4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.

Bronnie Ware writes: "When you are on your deathbed, what is (on) your mind? How wonderful to be able to let go and smile . . . Life is a choice. It is YOUR life. Choose consciously, choose wisely, choose honestly. Choose happiness."

She is right. Life is a choice.

The Spanish philosopher Jose Ortega y Gasset once wrote, "Living is the constant process of deciding what we are going to do."

And every Yes is accompanied by a No. Like the yin and yang principle in Buddhist thought, whenever you have one, you also have the other.

For many of us, especially those in the corporate world, saying No has become forbidden. Against the corporate culture, so to speak:

- "We are customer focused. We don't say No here."
- "Saying No is too negative. It would upset people."
- "Saying No a lot makes others wonder what you are doing. They may suspect you are a slacker, lazy."
- "If you say No, it looks like you are not a team player."

So what happens when the answer No is banished? In a word, burnout. I worked for a great boss (and a sweet guy) years ago. I'll call him H. Very smart, very experienced, very considerate. But he could not say No. As a result, he and his team became overwhelmed with work, all of it Top Priority. We just didn't have the resources to do it all. We lost our edge, drowned in the work, and ended up with a fiasco on our hands that blemished all of us.

While you don't want to come off like Dr. No, saying No all the time to every request, you have got to say No sometimes. It's vital to your effectiveness, your happiness, and to your success in life.

Here are four approaches to saying No:

- Refuse - Turn the request down by giving a solid reason, such as "I can't do that because we do not have the resources available."

- Refer - Point the requestor to another source of help, for example: "I can't help you with that, but I think Charlie can. Let me call him and ask."

- Reschedule - When you tell the requestor that now is not a good time, suggest a better time and schedule it.

- Recommend - After hearing and understanding the request, suggest an alternate route to a solution, for example: "I can't do that for you. Have you considered bringing in contract help?"

Re-read those five regrets above. Do you sense, in-between-the-lines, the failure to say No? Life is a choice. Every choice is a Yes, and a No. We all need to cultivate the presence of the "No" Principle in our lives, so that when we reach the end, we can look back and smile with contentment on a life well lived.

Posted by Terrence Seamon on Thursday December 8, 2011


mbp said…
Terry, here's a 5th for you - renegotiate. "Right now, these projects I'm working on are a priority. What can be placed on the back burner to move your request ahead?"

David Zinger said…
Wonderful how you know your NO!
Terrence Seamon said…
Excellent Marilyn! Thanks for adding a great idea that will help folks who are struggling with how to say No.

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