Rich Silvestri

A Short Course In Saying "No"

One of the more frustrating parts of raising a child in the first few years is a period often called the “no” stage. This is the time, often between the ages of two and four, when a child is first learning to speak, and he or she discovers that they can assert themselves and influence the people who care for them simply by saying “no”. This is their earliest taste of power and control and it seems magical to them. When asked if they would like to watch TV or go outside, they can hardly resist the urge to say “no” and see what happens next. At this point they may quickly change their mind and say “yes” just to see their parents hurriedly change their plans.

Saying “no” soon becomes a fascinating and irresistible toy – one that is so compelling they find themselves using it even when they might actually prefer to say “yes”. Nevertheless, as their language skills grow, they eventually tire of saying “no” in favor of what they actually want.

But as their child matures, it is the parents who find themselves frequently saying “no”, especially if their child is flirting with danger. Most parents find themselves saying “no” much more often than they would like, a view that is soon shared by their child. Once a child starts school and begins to interact with their peers, the parents become acutely aware of the dangers associated with peer pressure. They also may know that their child’s need for independence is directly opposed to their own fears for their child’s safety. This is why the teen years are often difficult ones, as young people’s drive for independence rivals their parents’ need to control them.

Most parents adopt a disciplinary style, which may be liberal, strict, or somewhere in between. In large part this boils down to when they should say “no”. There are numerous studies on the effectiveness of each of these strategies and the results seem to show that the key factor is how the child perceives their parents’ motives. If the child sees their parents’ choice as well-intentioned and designed to best meet their needs as a child, then whichever strategy the parents choose will usually work well. But if the child attributes their parents’ choice to putting their own needs first, such as forcing their child to do well at school or sports, as opposed to what the child really wants to do, then whichever strategy they choose will most likely fail.

Often, at this point, the parents and their child enter a tug of war between the parents’ desire to control and discipline them and the child’s drive to be independent. There are several common outcomes when a parent’s choice of a disciplinary strategy collides with the nature of the child’s personality. There seems to be a strong correlation with how a child learns to adapt to being told “no” and in turn their ability to say “no” to others.

Many corporations tell their employees, especially in retail business, to never say “no” to a client. But there are times when we do need to do so. Learning how and when to say “no” is a complex and difficult thing to do. It takes years of experience and practice to get good at it. Based on my observations, most people are not good at it. Learning how to say “no” artfully will enhance your reputation among your family members, friends, and coworkers.

Here are a few guidelines:

If just the thought of saying “no” to someone makes you feel very anxious and
inclined to avoid it, be assured that many people feel this way. Few people are truly comfortable with it.

Since most people have difficulty saying “no”, it is understandable to hedge a
little in order to avoid offending someone. This is why society usually condones
those little white lies we tell at times, especially if the subject is not an important
one …. “How do you like my new hairdo?” This is often done even in more
serious situations …. “How is my husband really doing, doctor?” or “We are
taking some new scans that may give us a better idea.” Most people don’t want to come right out and say “no”. Often they may feel the other person out a little first, give them a hint of what is coming. “I’m not sure that I am really comfortable with that but ….” This is another way of hedging.

Sometimes you can point out that the circumstances are too complex to be reduced to a “yes” or “no” answer.

Imagine yourself saying “no” in what would be a highly sensitive situation for you and see if it makes you feel anxious. If so, see if you can desensitize the anxiety with repeated practice.

“No” is a powerful and often irreversible word, so if you have doubt as to whether
you should use it or not, consult some other people who are knowledgeable on that particular subject, before you deliver your own verdict.

Assure the person you are saying “no” to that your opinion is directed at the issue
itself and not them …. “While I understand why you are asking this, and I respect
that, I just can’t ….”

The more important something is, such as a major life or business decision, the more important it may be to say “no”, when it is called for, truthfully and promptly. If you
really want to, but don’t say “no”, and just let things hang, there is still a question mark, so you can’t cross them off your list. Your brain also doesn’t know how to categorize them. So they float around in your head, and these are often the things that keep you up at night.

Saying “no” also gets harder if you procrastinate, because you somehow want to hold on to the option. The more time passes, the harder it will be to say “no”, and the more guilt and stress it will cause you. Not to mention the hard feelings on the other party’s part because “you should have told me back at the beginning!”

When you first start saying “no” as soon as you should it will be a big relief – it will feel so clean, so liberating!