Business Today

Saying No Takes Practice

Pick a strategy and try it out with colleagues, friends and family.
Team BT   New Delhi     Print Edition: December 17, 2017
Saying No Takes Practice

Some people believe in always being there for others. Whether it is coworkers, friends or family, they are forever willing to help. Then there are others who are not great at managing time or may not have the resources to be on call for others. While there is nothing wrong about that, the bigger problem is the quandary of saying "no". The guilt is enormous.

Most people say no under the garb of excuses. We have all heard "I have to go somewhere' or 'I have guests at home'. Even though flimsy, these excuses arise out of the need to avoid conflict, hurt and unpopularity. Harriet Braiker describes the guilt we feel when we say no to people in her book The Disease to Please: Curing the People Pleasing Syndrome, which is just for those who struggle with how to draw the line between their own needs and the demands of others. Braiker warns that conflict avoidance is not an ingredient of a successful relationship but rather the sign of a dysfunctional one. Avoiding saying 'no' when you are actually taking a big hit on your own time and resources in a way that you cannot handle is only going to strain a relationship and take it to the breaking point. This is as true in the workplace as it is anywhere else. So if you have trouble refusing, there are strategies to express yourself better, without guilt.

One recommendation is to take a look back at the times you've said no. Apparently, people do say no without suffering too many consequences. In our minds, the bad takes on a bigger shape than the good, so you may not remember the many times you may have said no and how nothing untoward really happened. Watch how others handle refusals effectively. In other words, become no-aware.

More immediate strategies include buying time by saying something like: 'I'll check my schedule (or bank account) and get back'. Fall back on our own rules: say that you have a policy about not going out on whatever day or about lending money or interfering with something. Another idea, especially for persistent people, is to be persistent in your refusal. Or make a counter offer that you can handle.

Every so often you will bump into people who won't take no for an answer and will escalate the situation till you say yes, just to resolve a bad and embarrassing situation. That's probably a cue to walk away altogether.


Everything in the much-admired Japanese culture has a reason for being. The French call it raison d'etre, but don't quite mean it as deeply as ikigai - also a reason for being, but more happily.

Here are some people who have found their ikigai: A seasoned journalist, who happens to practically be a celebrity in his own right, dropped everything and partners with his girlfriend to set up a dance instruction video store. A young girl, just out of college, turned down offers to work at some of the biggest corporates and built an app to get people with disabilities to meet one another. A young man who studied philosophy for many years finally found a good use for it - he formed a company to go about teaching critical thinking skills to school students.

You can achieve ikigai when you find out what you are really good at, what you absolutely love doing, discover whether the world needs it, and configure it so someone pays you for it. But the ikigai could change at different points of life; so one should sit down every so often and find their sweet spot in life.


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