Handling People Who Say No

All of us have met people who habitually say, “No,” “but,” or “however” to anything someone else suggests, often before the person completes their presentation.  It’s hard to live or work with such a person.  Little wonder that their victims feel unheard and deeply resent the way their every new thought or idea is discarded without fair consideration.

There is a consultant in New York who specialized in freeing people from this troublesome habit of saying “No” too quickly.  As reported in an article in the New Yorker magazine, he has been hired by corporations to train their most negative executives to behave in a more positive manner when dealing with others at meetings.  The fee for this service is paid by the company and is presently restricted to talented higher-level executives who recognize they have a “No” problem and profess a wish to change.  The consultant starts by asking the executive about their family and follows that by speaking to family members.  Most executives believe that their negativity is confined to the office but are soon surprised to learn that their “No” is as rampant at home and other social settings.  They wear their “No” hat almost everywhere.

To stop this habit the consultant imposes a $20 cash fine for each sentence the client speaks starting with the words “no,” “but,” or “however.” One client who opened with a “No” was told, “That will be $20.”  The client responded immediately to the penalty by saying “No, no, no.”  He was then told that this would cost him 40, 60, then 80 out-of-pocket dollars.

$420 in fines was incurred at that session.  The executive soon began to recognize how costly this habit would be if he continued doing so.  Only later, when the habit receded, did he recognize the high price he had paid at home and work for such negativity.  Another valuable insight proved valuable.  These managers learned that their reputation for negativity continued long after them managed to control the habit.  It was as though their reputation sat with them everywhere: at meetings, at negotiations, in casual conversations and even at social gatherings.  People do not connect with those who wear “No” hats. As the consultant wrote in the New Yorker article, “The executive had to improve one hundred percent for his associates to perceive a ten percent positive change.”

Those of us who are inclined to be negative can learn to be less so if we recognize this tendency in ourselves.  We can pay attention to our words when saying “No,” “But,” or “However” in response to what someone is saying, and we can choose to stop that non-productive behavior. The more we resist saying those negative words, the easier it will be to drop them from our repertoire.  Saying “No,” “But,” or “However” is a habit we can break by continuous observation and practice at home and at work.

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