| 03.18.2018

Yes, no, maybe so — Everyone has the freedom to say “no”


Why is it that when people say “yes” they often mean to say “no?” You must decode whether they are being polite or genuine.

No one wants to say “no” because they don’t want to let others down. It’s much easier to say “yes” than “no.” People care too much about what others think. Identifying this is the first step to learning how to confidently say “no.”

What would happen if someone spent an entire week saying “no” to everyone? That person probably find themselves with a fair amount of extra time. By saying “no,” people allow things important to them to be prioritized. When someone has defined the things they are saying “yes” to, they will know when to turn other activities down.

Vanessa Bohns, an associate professor of Organizational Behavior at Cornell, studies this social psychology of rejection.

“It’s a social norm to say ‘yes,’ and breaking that social norm and saying ‘no’ is awkward and embarrassing,” Bohns said.

Her studies have suggested that we vastly overestimate others’ willingness to say “no” to our own requests. Bohns’s studies on persuasion have suggested “it can ultimately be more effort to say ‘no’ politely than to just go ahead and do whatever was asked,” she said.

Bohns said saying “yes” to every request doesn’t help an individual perform at their best.

It may seem harsh, but by understanding one’s limitations and boundaries they can confidently and respectfully say “no” while not hurting the other person involved. And if the other person can’t handle it, they need to learn to be more flexible and empathetic.

Another reason people don’t like saying “no” is because they don’t know how to really say “yes” and mean it. People tend to give unclear commitments because they think something better might come up. “Let’s hangout sometime,” “We should get coffee soon” or “Maybe next week.”

An example of this is Facebook events. Basically whenever someone checks the “maybe” button, they aren’t actually going to go. There’s no commitment, which means no follow through — and people fear commitment.

Maybe commitment wouldn’t be so scary if people were more selective about the things they are committed to. If they made sure they actually wanted to do whatever it is they are committing to before they commit to it, they would probably stick to their word.

What if when people said “yes” they actually meant it? It would allow the freedom to be more selective about the things they say “yes” to, which would require them to say “no” to more things instead of “maybe.”

Saying “no” to something is saying “yes” to something else. There is only so much time every day, and a limited amount of time in each life. It is necessary to say “no” in order to say “yes” to the most important things. And when people say “yes” to what matters most, they will find fulfillment knowing they didn’t waste their life on meaningless things.

Simply say “yes” or “no.”

Andrew Brand can be reached at arg-opinion@uidaho.edu or on Twitter @theandrewbrand

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