Sometime ago in Singapore, I delivered a workshop for ladies only. By using their voice and bodies, the workshop was meant to empower ladies in their personal and professional lives. Until then, I thought that to say NO was something with a certain level of difficulty, but at the end we all did.
[Also available to read in Spanish]
The exercise required the participants to say NO with different levels of intensity. By using the volume and power of their own voices and sharp movements of their bodies, the mission was to be completed. In order to inspire the different targets on the power of saying NO, the participants were given specific situations. The group made a circle in which their backs were facing to the inside, so they could not see what the others were doing.
The first level was the less determined; the NO was so weak that it was almost a yes. For this particular part of the exercise, they did not use their body, only a soft voice with no much intention. The participants did well, it was easy, there was not much compromise, and the story was flexible enough that a yes or a no would not make a difference.
But the more extreme the story become, I could see the difficulties they faced: some could not raise their voices, others could not ground their bodies, and most of them couldn’t deliver a coherent and coordinated action while placing a firm NO.
On the debrief of the exercise, some ladies declared not to have the courage to confront the situation saying NO, others felt the needed but noticed they did not have the practice, and few understood that saying NO was not available to them. Since then, I started to pay attention to why saying NO is not easy for some.
According to a research study done by Columbia psychologist Francis Flynn and Vanessa Lake, to say NO makes people feel uncomfortable especially if the person we have to say is someone close, or our boss or a co-worker. The study also did some gender correlations that showed that women have a harder time saying NO. This could be related to the fact that in many cases, they are the relationship builders of the family and in the workplace.
Also, this difficulty could be related to the bad connotation of the word: negativity, attitude, discontent, cloudy view, risk adverse and energy sapper. In essence, people who say NO, tend to be recognized as “whinnying perfectionist and petulant discontent”. Of course, we do not want to be perceived this way!
But there is another side of saying NO, those who are into the practice set limits for themselves, have a clear standpoint and can argue their position. They are open for different commitments, they are willing to not participate, and they look for options that are not the common ones.
I believe there is a certain power on saying NO; personally, it has helped to define not only my personality, but also what is important to me. I care for what I say and how I say it, I use my body to find the right intensity of my NO and I invite my voice to help me while I am at it.
In an article published in Psychology Today by Judith Sills, PhD, she says, “the ability to say NO is an essential element to one’s moral compass. Without it, we are merely agreeable pleasers.” I agree completely with this, if we haven’t had the practice to do it, it is time to start, if culturally is not available, we have to find a way to stand firmly in what we believe in, and if we do not say it because we do not know how, we need to learn.
The power of NO is part of our freedom, and it is our responsibility to exercise it.