top of page
  • Writer's pictureJane Leder

Saying "No"

Maybe as a two-year-old, I drove my parents crazy and set a record for the number of times I asserted my independence and screamed "No!" There's a photo of me around that time where I am having a major tantrum, sliding down my mother's lap, ready to throw some silly flowers across the room. The felt, cowgirl vest I'm wearing is crumpled, as is the white, short-sleeved blouse my mother had chosen that morning.

I have to give it to my mother: she managed to keep her composure, even smile. It looks as if she finds my frustration rather amusing--maybe a front because we were sitting for a professional photographer who didn't stop shooting.

So, this got me thinking. Not about my mother and her tweed jacket (all the style in 1947/48) but about how many times in a one-year period I vocalized my independence by refusing to do something with a resounding "no!" Alas, Guinness doesn't keep track of such records.

Still, I wonder if by the end of this chaotic period in my life not only did my parents but I got sick and tired of these countless outbursts and refusals. I wonder if I used up my capital (Thank you, Bush II) of "nos" and, in combination with a family that did not do well with disagreements, a few synapses in my brain had trouble connecting. Saying "No" meant that either I'd hurt someone's feelings, that I wouldn't be liked, or that I was plain sick and tired of disagreeing.


Here I am a confident, self-assured seventy-four-year-old (well, most of the time) who still, on occasion, has trouble saying "no." It's a curse. I have a good friend who doesn't get it: she can't understand why, if I don't want to go to a party or see a movie or drive hours to visit relatives, I can't just say "no." Hmm . . .

So, I've done a bit of research, and here's what I found:

“The ability to communicate ‘no’ really reflects that you are in the driver’s seat of your own life,” said Vanessa M. Patrick, an associate professor of marketing at the C. T. Bauer College of Business at the University of Houston. “It gives you a sense of empowerment.”

Who doesn't want to feel empowered? I sure do

Researchers who study this business confirm that it's more effective, for example, to say "I don't want to sign up for a credit card," instead of "I can't sign up but thank you." The latter sounds like an excuse that is up for debate, while "I don't" is a stronger way to say "no."

So, the next time a stranger or acquaintance suggests that you do something you don't want to do, blow them off. No. Not really. Use those times to practice being assertive with a stranger or an acquaintance. It's a lot easier to say "I don't" than with say, your partner or close friend.

Then there's the business of being too direct and seeming too threatening. Interestingly, folks who think they are over-assertive are often seen as under-assertive. Go figure. Note to myself: Don't be afraid of hurting someone's feelings because they probably won't be offended.

There's a good article on May 8, 2017, edition of the New York Times. In it, Kristin Wong goes into more detail about why we should learn to say "no" more often. It's a good read; I recommend it.

If you aren't interested, speak up. You don't want to read it. My feelings won't be hurt.


Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page