Saturday, March 19, 2011

Day 10: How to Usefully Say "No"

One of my faithful workshop colleagues described a state of being in which he found himself having said "yes" to far more things than he had wished.  He asked Roger to speak about how to usefully say "No."

Roger began by saying that usefully saying "no" is largely about managing your attention.  The state described occurs when one's attention is fragmented so that they say "yes" when the thing is in conflict with some other commitment that one has.

The three things to consider when saying "No" are:

1. Look where your attention is in this moment in your life.  Fast things that don't occur consistent with where your attention is in your life.  That is,  do not engage or say "yes" to things that are not consistent with what you want for your life.

2. Consider the nature of the request.  Oftentimes we speak to one another in a way that doesn't require a response from another person.  For example, if you get an email that says, "I'd like to have lunch with you," you can see that there really is no need to say "yes" or "no" to that email because there is no request in it. There is only an expression of someone's desire.

A request is more like, "I have this time on this day to talk about these things. Are you willing to do that with me?"

Consider the fact that in systems where "No" is not easy to say, he ability to make requests is also disabled. A system where "No" is not easy to say can be an entire country, where it is culturally unacceptable to say "No." Or, it can be an institution where saying "no" reflects poorly on one's loyalty to the organization.  Or, it can be a relationship in which somehow the consequences of saying "No" are so grave that one can only say "yes."

What this does is take away the meaning of "yes" and "no".  When you can't actually say "No," what does "yes" in fact mean?

Roger also asked us if one cannot authentically say "No," or if the requester cannot entertain the option of "no," what happens?  We were able to see that in the face of this, our habit is to manipulate people (or attempt to manipulate).  That is, we ask the question in a way the attempts to bias the answer toward a "yes." We include "selling points" of saying "yes"; we try to present the request in a way that illustrates that "no" is not in the person's best interest or in the best interest of others; we make the request in a way the eliminates the possibility or makes fooling an answer of "no."

To test if you are in a system where "No" is not easy to say, practice making request in a way that allows the other person to say "No."  When these requests occur, something about the system becomes revealed. By practicing this ability to make requests in a way that genuinely allows the respondent to say "no," you begin to see something inside yourself about YES and NO.  The mental model that you have about the meaning of "no" affects your ability to make a request AND your ability to elegantly say "no."

As an example, Roger said that most people fail in sales because they can't deal with the rejection of someone saying "no. "  It is a personal rejection to them.  Because they cannot deal with the rejection of "no," their ability to ask for the sale is disabled.

3. Have clarity about your own mandate. What is your commitment in this matter? This idea of "mandate" has been expressed in other meetings.
mandate.  noun
An official order or commission to do something.

I think "official order or commission" is used broadly in this context, meaning it can be something you feel you've been put on the earth to do, or you may look at yourself inside whatever the dynamic is doing and ask if you have a mandate?  For example, if one is responsible for running a meeting, they may have an implicit mandate to ensure that the meeting agenda is addressed.

Say "no" when the request is inconsistent with your commitments or mandate.

In saying "no," you can do it with an intent to honor the reality of those who are saying "yes."

Look for patterns. In relationships, one can get into "role locks" where there is an agreed upon utility of each person.

There is something about your own generosity in giving people the room to say "no"... (I don't know what this "something" is, but presumably it helps).

An experiment
Make five requests that you're uncomfortable with such that someone can say "yes" or "no."  What do you learn in this process?

(Note: These requests should be genuine, not made up for the purpose of the experiment...that would be manipulation.)

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