Learning to say ‘No’ – A survival factor?

Many of us would know of stories and folklores in our cultures and traditions of ‘characters’ that got into trouble simply because they did not know how to say ‘No’. Some times we know that the answer to a request should be negative but we simply choose to say ‘Yes’ or keep mute for whatever reason. This is often followed by regrets and stress as there may have been a commitment made which can not be seen through, either because we are incapable of doing so or because it is impossible to do so.

For many people of African descent, sentiments are very much a part of the culture and in turn a huge part of our lives. Sentiment may mean the inability to say ‘No’ to the request of someone who we place in a position of respect in our lives. For some people this is still the case even when the request is absolutely impossible to deliver. This may be from a boss, a family member, religious leader or even colleagues. Many people have compromised themselves, been implicated in criminal activity, engaged in immoral acts and even destroy their families because of their inability to say ‘No’.

The truth is that it is totally unwise to promise to get something done solely because of sentiments. Whilst it is noble to want to assist or support people, care must be taken not to become known as a person with no integrity because some of your promises have not been delivered.

Good intentions, pity or respect for elders are not good enough reasons to become a person with no integrity. As it is often said, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Whilst you may not start out with bad intentions, it is known that having a desire to do good is often not the only factor necessary in getting the good deed done.

For many people, promising and not delivering is no longer a big deal. For them it is the order of the day just because they find it difficult to say ‘No’ even when it is the right thing to do. What is sometimes worrying is that many people equate being assertive to being confrontational, so they never assert themselves even when their lives depend on it. They will rather pressure themselves on money they do not have to meet the aspiration of someone else. It is true that a good number of people do not go out to behave in this manner but find themselves in circumstances where they are unable to sum up the courage to say ‘No’.

You may not always be able to prevent yourself from these challenging circumstances as society will constantly place demands on you – some which are reasonable and some which are not. The important lesson is to know how to deftly handle these situations and maturely respond to demands you know are beyond your capability. This is where the ability to say ‘No’ may be a necessary survival factor especially in our culture. You simply need to be able to say ‘No’ sometimes for you to survive and live in peace.

Saying ‘No’ does not have to be a nasty experience for either the ‘sayer’ or the ‘hearer’. It is a useful instrument that can be employed if and when necessary for the sake of your integrity and also for the sake of people around you who may be at the receiving end of the consequences of your actions.

Assertiveness skills are fundamental in successful communication. It is a skill that is important for students, professionals and managers alike. The following are tips in this direction:

1. If you know that the answer to a request should be ‘No’, do so politely.

2. Saying ‘No’ does not always require aggression, an argument, raised voice or stern look. What you need to do is to make your points known clearly and very firmly.

3. Do not succumb to emotional blackmail or reverse psychology in matters where your integrity, morality and future can be compromised.

4. Your integrity, dignity and future may depend on your ability to say ‘No’ when necessary.

5. Do not allow yourself to be railroaded into something you clearly do not have the capability or desire to do.

6. It is better to under-promise and over-deliver than to over-promise and under-deliver.

7. For harassment cases, you need to be very firm and make yourself clear without necessarily shouting.

8. For young ladies, if you feel you are being pestered by someone for sex, do not play along or make it a smiling matter, register your objection firmly and determinedly.

9. Saying ‘No’ requires a reasonable degree of courage, so be courageous.

10. Your inability to say ‘No’ early could land you into trouble and ruin your relationships.

11. You do not have to say ‘No’ to all things if they are within your power and ability to deliver.

12. This article is not to get people to start to say ‘No’ to all things, but to help you know how to say ‘No’ when appropriate and how to ensure you do not compromise yourself.

We all benefit when we do things right!