“No” is an easy response that sometimes proves useful. It can save you time, reduce your workload, and help you conserve mental energy for bigger questions. These can be real wins—especially for those who feel stretched too thin. Albeit a symptom of privilege, most all of us are drowning in choice. Therefore, we seek ways to reduce the “noise” in our lives. No also has shortcomings. Perhaps the greatest of these is that this word serves as a roadblock, which tends to shut down discussion. I have friends who’ve set their default response to no, and their lives are bleaker for having done so.
“Yes” is different. This response initially seems more daunting—leaving the impression you might get roped into doing something you don’t want to do. That said, you might not be as good at determining what you want, as you think you are. A rainy day bike ride might turn out to be fun; prairie oysters could be delicious; and, perhaps there’s something more to opera than wailing ladies. Or, maybe not. And if the latter turns out to be the case, you can say no next time, and rest assured you aren’t missing out. Saying yes, reduces resistance and disarms those around you. In fact, this word can even change your personality. Using it can transform you from “Bob who says no to everything,” to “Bob, who’s up for anything.”
My life is busy. This is a result of my own actions—I feel compelled to try making as many things as I can. This leads me to take on more than I perhaps should. As a result, I find myself feeling forced to say no. (If I didn’t, there’d be no time left to myself.) Unfortunately, I’ve been saying no too much, to people I shouldn’t. So, for the past while, I’ve been working to change this habit—and see what doing so might result in.
I say yes to clients more than ever before—particularly when change requests land in my email inbox. You see, when clients review comps, a long list of revisions is pretty much inevitable. By the time we produce comps, though, we’ve worked through a lot of challenges, and (hopefully) achieved something that solves our client’s problem. Therefore, these lists can seem daunting, and result in a defensive response. I get intimidated when I’m forced to change something that I think works. I also worry about breaking the design.
At such points, my emotions are hard to restrain. So, I’ve set up a process I force myself to work through. I duplicate the contents of my client’s email, itemize every change, and say yes—to everything. I do so even with the weird requests—and believe me, I’ve seen my share. Who knows? Maybe even these changes will work out. Then, I go back through that list and identify only the points that would clearly break the design we’re producing (E.g. Using images we don’t have permission to use; applying a faulty printing technique; making a navigation system confusing.) I then explain these obstacles, why they concern me, and what our options are. This approach helps direct everyone’s attention to the concerns that matter most. This approach also lessens pressure at an often stressful time.
I say no to my kids more than anyone. In part, I do so because their ideas are sometimes stupid—and at others potentially lethal. “Hey Dad—look at how I put this plastic bag over my brother’s head!” But there are also many requests I’m too lazy or stuck-in-my-ways to say yes to. Oscar asks, “Daddy, can we learn Processing tonight?” but I’m so tired I just want to collapse into the couch. Ari asks me if we can stop for ice cream, but I’m fixed on the idea of high-tailing it home and relaxing. So, I remind myself that one day they’ll have more interesting ways to spend their time than hanging out with their boring old dad (who always said no), and I ask myself, “what’s the worst that could happen if I said yes?”
Saying no isn’t inherently bad. In fact, learning to say no is a worthwhile skill—particularly for those who’re bombarded by requests, and have difficulty finding time for themselves and the ones they love. Moreover, I’m not saying that I will only ever respond in the affirmative. Rather, I want to stop using no as my go-to response. I’ll save no for telemarketers, online surveys, and people who’ve hardly introduced themselves, but believe themselves entitled to my time. However, for my clients, my kids, my wife, my parents, and my friends, I’m going to do my very best to say yes—even if at first I don’t want to.