On Becoming a ‘No’ Person

On the desk of a senior person in my company there was a sign – it was the first thing you saw when you walked in – it said one word, “NO”. This always disturbed me. It made me not want to be in the room. It made me feel like this person either didn’t care about finding solutions or was too overwhelmed to try. And neither seemed like a good opening for a conversation around work. But, she was more senior than me – had a good track record of success and I was in my 20s and new to the organization.
I think about that “NO” sign often – is it a good idea to have that approach towards life – or a bad idea?


The idea of saying “no” falls squarely into the realm of the big five personality trait agreeableness. The other four are openness, conscientiousness, neuroticism and extroversion. There is no right or wrong personality – unless your particular culture happens to reward some particular end of the spectrum. In our culture, research shows that being agreeable can negatively affect your chances of success in the workplace, both in terms of intrinsic happiness and extrinsic rewards. 


Why would this be the case? Agreeable people are characterized by “compassion, friendliness, politeness and empathy. People high in this trait can be described as ‘nice’; they tend to make good friends, are good listeners and good team players.” https://www.abc.net.au/news/2018-04-18/agreeable-employees-earn-less-work-harder-good-for-companies/9670238


This seems like the perfect person to have on a team! But alas, it takes more than being agreeable to succeed. The economy is not run on agreement, but on success. In order to reach objectives and targets the right answer must be reached – not simply a consensus amongst a team. 


I think of it like a raft lost at sea. Camaraderie and morale are important, but alone are worthless. The goal is to get rescued or find land. Any actions that do not lead to those outcomes create failure. 


So if you find yourself falling in with the crowd that keeps missing their objectives, it might be time to become more assertive. Stand up for what you believe in and be able to say no. Here is one definition of assertiveness that I like, “having the ability to confidently communicate what you want or need while also respecting the needs of others”. https://www.masterclass.com/articles/how-to-be-assertive


Here are some pointers on how to become more assertive: https://www.masterclass.com/articles/how-to-be-assertive


For me, this can be married well with the “5 Second Rule” from Mel Robbins. Disclaimer: I have not actually read the book – but I assume the idea is that you have 5 seconds to take action, and I like thinking about it that way. Imagine you are in a meeting and you hear something you do not agree with. There is a small window of opportunity. A 5 second time has started – either you speak up and exercise your ability to not be agreeable or you let the moment pass and have a mountain to climb later.

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