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Honey, Just say "No"

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Rajit Nair

The word ‘No’ is definitely the most reviled word to hear when you were a toddler. Nowadays, as parents this is the word which we use zillions of times a day at home when our 4+ year old son, ‘invents’, ‘discovers’, ‘nags’, ‘screams’ and so on.

I think too much ‘No’s’ in childhood might have created an aversion towards the word ‘No’ in me. Whenever, my team members say something is impossible, my reply would be, “ the word No’ is not in my vocabulary”. Everything is possible is what I used to say to my team when we were stuck with either a challenging task or a nonsense request from the client or occasionally a situation arising from stupidity of others or due to a false assurance made by someone who do not understand how things are accomplished professionally. On a scale of 1 –10, I was right 9 times, that “it’s possible”, I should say with pride.

However, may be due to my workaholic nature, many occasions, where I should have said ‘No’, I either forgot to tell or I avoided telling ‘No’ or I simply accepted the tasks or mediocre orders and later regretted. Some people used to take ‘advantage’ of my only ‘Achilles' heel’ and most of them benefited from it mostly in the form of ‘fame’, ‘status’, ‘money’ and other material benefits.

Why I didn’t say ‘No’ needs research! I may blame it on our great Indian culture that teaches or preaches the disciples to make the life meaningful through our actions. Through metaphors from our epics and holy books we, Indians are ‘programmed’ to be tolerant, dutiful, respectful and to have all the good virtues depicted in our holy books.

When I was a kid, I used to quiz why the great Asura King, Mahabali, agreed to give the three paces (steps) of land for ‘Vamana’, the incarnation of Lord Vishnu. Why he didn’t say ‘No’? Even the King ignored the warning even from his guru. The story goes on as Vamana measured all the worlds and the sky with just two paces. Then, Mahabali offered himself as the third pace and was thus banished to the Patala, the nether world.

Anyway, my guru enlightened me that always the ‘good will triumph over the evil’. But the irony is that we are not ‘Saints’ or can’t expect incarnations of the supreme to appear like those days to slay the evildoers. The only certainty is to learn how to say ‘No’, in situations, where our conscience disagrees with what you were asked to do by someone, even if s/he is your superior or elder to you. You need to be the judge of your actions and decline accordingly.

The best seller “The Book of NO” (250 ways to say it – and mean it and stop People Pleasing Forever) by Susan Newman illustrates plethora of situations that we may face both at the workplace and private life and guides you how to say ‘No’.

Have you ever counted the number of times you said ‘No’ while at work? It would be very rare or nil, if the requester always is your boss, right?

Recently, a legal officer in one of the UAE banks was asked by his supervisor to perform a diligence exercise on a proposed merger of two banks. On a closer look, the employee realized that the task has nothing related to the bank where he is working and on further quizzing the ‘boss’ agreed that this is his personal work and what he was asking is a ‘personal favor’. The irritated employee said ‘No’ as this was not part of his job and also has nothing to do with the employer, the bank.

In the corporate world too much such personal favors or unethical job requests like changing of HR records, manipulation of data and the like from unprofessional and callous bosses come on a daily basis and the unfortunate subordinate employees, most of the time, do not have much choice except to say ‘Yes’ instead of ‘No’.

Similarly, using the employee as a Trojan and compelling him/her to reply emails to clients or suppliers with the text dictated by the supervisor, just to create friction or to convey to the Client or the Supplier what the supervisor wanted to say is also not uncommon these days.

In such situations, the employee should be saying ‘No’. However, if the employee is “weak” or is a “saint”, then there will not be any end to it, as s/he will be taken for granted incessantly.

The moment you say ‘No’ to an insipid supervisor, we can expect the countdown for employee’s exit soon. Recently, I received an email from one of my female friends working in a bSME (below the SME category business) explaining the reasons that triggered her resignation. The major reason was the attitude of her female toxic boss (trying to emulate the female CEO in the 2006 movie, ‘ The Devil wears Prada’; please the link to watch the clipping!) who used to hate this female employee since the day the employee defied Boss’s pressure to manipulate the core data ‘black box’ of the company. Since then, boss catches my friend for wrong or fictitious or unreasonable reasons such as not complying with the dress code, not carrying boss’s luggage during one of the business travels, her personal hygiene etc. Even after the employee submitted her resignation, the harassment continued in the form of delaying the resignation acceptance and withholding of her end of service entitlements. Sometimes, the ‘No’ bears a mega price tag!

An employee should master the art of saying ‘No’ in a very diplomatic ways if the situation demands such diplomacy. But diplomacy should not to be the criteria, if someone is using you as a ‘tool’ to do bad or inappropriate tasks. Remember, the requester may not have a conscience but you may be having one!

Even though I preached diplomacy, but in circumstances where the employee feels that s/he has been used or the request is unethical and against all known norms, then definitely the employee with no hesitation should turn it down with a ‘big No’ giving diplomacy a vacation. The power of this two-letter word (‘No’) is amazing, ‘yes’, if aptly used!

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