The " No" Conversations

Friday, November 10, 2017

  • Do you find it difficult to say no to requests and invitations from colleagues, friends, and bosses at work?
  • Very often at the office, do you feel like saying No to requests but end up saying Yes?
  • Do you feel upset with others in your team since you have your own job to complete, and you have not been able to say No to additional responsibilities?


  • How do you feel when someone at work says “No” to your request or an idea?

My paternal uncle always had lots of stories to share from his experiences. Often we used to chat about life and its lessons. He was a very helpful person and was known around his town as someone with a helping hand. He once told me” It is not possible to help people each time they ask. There are times when I have had to refuse them. But what has happened is that I see those people then begin to keep a distance from me. People essentially do not like hearing a no and get upset. They seem to forget the moments I had reached out and remember the only time I had said no. We complicate the simplest of things”.

That’s so true, isn’t it? We are experts at taking situations and flavouring them with emotions. We find it embarrassing to say No to a request and feel equally grim to hear one.

Often my clients ask me tips on how to say "No" to requests for support at work since saying "No" does not come naturally to most of us. I feel at the core we all want to be supportive and helpful to each other and by saying "No" we feel like we are not being that.  Earlier I found saying "No" very difficult as it felt like I am refusing to help someone, whereas I wanted to feel like I am contributing and being useful.

So today I would like to explore situations in the workplace and see how we think when we hear a" No" and say a "No". What does it do to our emotional state? Does it affect our communication? Our relationships? Does it feel conflicting? Does it cause stress?  Let us look at different situations.

 Situation I - Saying a “No”

Most of us feel extremely guilty saying no to requests, ideas, proposals etc.  at work within the context of a relationship we share. So sometimes either we reluctantly take it up or probably go ahead and decline.

When we reluctantly take it up, seconds later a voice goes off in our head that says,” Oh no, why did I agree, I should have come up with some excuse! ”.  Then you begin to feel anxious and upset about the situation and also the people involved. In fact what I have observed is that this emotion overshadows my day till the job is done.

When you refuse, initially you smartly endure that discomfort for a while. Then you begin to constantly observe that one person from the corner of your eye to see if his attitude towards you has changed or if he seems offended.  Just in case he does, then there goes your sleep for the night!

Situation II - Hearing a” No”

Ever thought of this one? We find it extremely unsettling to hear a "No" and carry those emotions for quite some time inside of us.  One Sunday I was not keeping well. I made a call to my cook asking her to come on a holiday to help me out. She explained the reason why she cannot and very calmly and kept the phone down. Honestly, I felt snubbed and extremely disappointed. Her no to my request sounded to me like a denial, a refusal.  Does this sound familiar? We pretend it does not matter and that everything is okay, but at some level, we are not able to come to terms with the fact that someone just said No to us.

Situation III - The silent “No”

Have you ever had ghost conversations? These are conversations we have in our head and we represent both the parties. Let me tell you more.  During the year-end audits at our office, I used to work late hours. All the time I used to hope someone would offer me help but no one ever did and I ended up sulking. In my head how the whole thing played out was that people must understand that I want help and ask me if I needed assistance. Since they did not, in my imagination there was a conversation happening where I am requesting and they are saying a No. Isn’t this bizarre?

Secret is in the Thinking

So if you carefully look through all the instances I shared, the common denominator is our emotional turbulence; Millions of moments of anxiety, irritation and anger.  Without being aware we carry the burden of so many unpleasant feelings in our body that it gets difficult to find joy and fulfilment while on the job.  It may seem very trivial but soon these responses become a way of life, a habit, and cause unpleasant stress at work. Most of us choose to ignore this and these feelings of upset soon extend as strained relations in the office.

It is time to acknowledge that we are humans working behind those corporate walls and that we have sentiments and reactions to what is happening with us or around us. In my experience, it has helped to take a moment, work on my relationship with self, iron out the inside and then move on.

So I stopped and asked myself, what is happening? When I heard a No, I felt people are rejecting me. When I had to say a No, I felt they will no longer like me. In short, I thought people are making life difficult for me.  That’s the time I realized;  I am blaming the outside world for the emotions I am feeling! The problem is in my thinking! The problem is with the meanings I am forming!

I was attaching my own meaning to peoples responses, and those meanings were spoiling the peace and joy in me. So I began taking personal responsibility. Responsibility means the ability to respond, and I began to choose a way of thinking that made me feel empowered.

  • So when I want to say “No” to a request, idea or proposal I am aware of my intention. When my intention is to be helpful and also be true to my priorities, values, make the other person feel listened to and respected, I find it simpler to express myself.
  • When I hear a No being said to me, I now realize that the others are choosing a priority. They are not doing anything to me, instead, are doing what fits them best.
  • One amazing learning I had in this self- reflection exercise was that people do not owe me a thing. So if I want something, I just have to ask!

If what I have shared remotely matches with any of your experiences, then take a moment and build a relationship with yourself first.  Take personal responsibility in your thinking, and create a positive world on the inside. It begins with you. It always was you.

“It is easy to say No when there is a deeper yes burning inside – Steven Covey “

Keep smiling

Warm regards