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THOMPSON: The art of saying 'No' will save you time, effort - and your sanity

September 27, 2021 - 12:00 PM



I don’t know when I first learned the power of the word, “No!” I mean a considered, “No," not the one you discover as a toddler and willfully - often gleefully - respond with to your parents’ every request or suggestion. I’m talking an adult “No!”

Sometimes “No,” isn’t a negative…it doesn’t have to carry the weight of pessimism. In fact, it doesn’t even have to be dismissive. That might come as a shock to some…usually those who don’t know how or when to use “No” as an answer.

Being from the South, I prefer, “No, thank you,”…it’s polite and seems to soften any perceived disappointing blow to the person asking you to do something.

It is easy to fall into the trap of always wanting to answer, “Yes” when someone makes a request. It can get to be a habit…but not necessarily a good one. If you are good at what you do - competent - and caring, you are used to being asked…and saying “Yes.” Indeed, it can be difficult to say otherwise.

Learning the art of saying “No” can save you…time, effort…not to mention sometimes your sanity. You need to learn this art…whether you’re a stay-at-home super-parent, a successful business executive, a teacher that every parent wants for their child and every principal wants for their school.

Just to be clear, I’m not talking about negative people who answer “No” to everything, almost every request, every suggestion. We all know this type, and if you’re like me, I walk a wide arc around them. Most of us say “Yes” a lot more than “No,” and there’s the rub.

People who are famous learn very quickly to say “No”…they have to because there are just so many hours in a day or week or year and the demands on their time are great.

So, Stephen Sondheim and Amanda Gorman and Dwayne Johnson and Tom Brady have no problem saying, “No!” Likewise, that’s why your friend who is president of the local Rotary Club, owns a business and volunteers as a hospice aide or why you as a full-time physician serving on a few non-profit boards and raising two children have learned to say, “No!”

Remember that toddler? We’re taught not to say, “No!” as children…it’s usually considered impolite or inappropriate. This early imprinting of acceptable behaviour carries into adulthood - almost habit - and is hard to break as an adult.

Also, perhaps there’s a certain fear that if we say “No,” people won’t ever ask us again. We often think that the success we built over years by saying “Yes” to any challenge might be at risk with any other answer. We simply need to get over that feeling...yes, easier said than done…but recognizing our limits before we get in over our head is a must for a balanced, happy life.

I’ve been fortunate to know and work with some incredible people over the years - from Four-Star Generals in the U.S. Air Force to CEOs of some of the world’s highest performing companies - and the most successful people I’ve ever known responded “No” more than “Yes” to requests.

The secret is being honest, with yourself, and others. Know your boundaries…a confident and realistic understanding of what you can do…and what you cannot. Is the happiness of others more important than yours? No…because you can’t control whether others are happy. But, by saying “Yes” when you should say, “No”…you can ruin your chance at a balanced, happy life.

You might just find that saying “No” to what someone is asking you to do…is merely another way of saying “Yes” to what you really want and need to do.

— Don Thompson, an American awaiting Canadian citizenship, lives in Vernon and in Florida. In a career that spans more than 40 years, Don has been a working journalist, a speechwriter and the CEO of an advertising and public relations firm. A passionate and compassionate man, he loves the written word as much as fine dinners with great wines.

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