How can you make saying “NO” into a positive thing that can give you more time, less stress, and a sense of control over your life? The answer is to transform it from a short word into a two-letter acronym: N.O. – standing for Noble Objection.
At the heart of my best-selling book, The Yes/No Book is the “Noble Objection”.
The Noble Objection is an empowering alternative to saying “no”. No is a negative. It declines, it refuses, it denies. Consequently, many of us find it hard to say “no”. And many also find it a hard word to accept.
So, instead, why not be positive? Instead of saying “no”, make a Noble Objection (NO). You make a Noble Objection when you say “NO” for a positive, noble reason.
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Saying “no” capriciously, mendaciously or just because you don’t want to is far from noble. But, when you say “NO” because your other priorities outweigh this one, because you are not just a doormat, and because you have thought through the consequences, then you are doing the right thing.
How you say “NO” is important. Show respect if you want to retain respect. Be courteous, because that’s what noble people do. Your “NO” may be the right thing for you, but it may inconvenience me, so don’t make me feel worse than you need to.
Making the right choices and doing so respectfully is a perfectly reasonable thing to do. You do not need to say sorry for doing the right thing.
On the other hand, you may know how much inconvenience your “NO” may cause, and it will help me to accept the “NO” if you show that you understand that, and care. Sometimes, of course, you may value the relationship above the time commitment, and choose to say “YES”. If you do so, say “YES” with all your heart: nothing is worse than a grudging and puny “yes”.
You don’t need to apologize for your “NO” but you may want to help me understand why you said it. In the science of influence, we learn that the word “because” has great power.
You may not have time to say “YES”, but it only takes a moment to be helpful and suggest alternatives. Who else could I ask? Where can I find useful information, resources, or tools? What could I try?
Don’t make a big deal of your Noble Objection – it will sound like you have doubts and open you up to attempts at manipulation or emotional blackmail. But that doesn’t mean you have to be curt and dismissive. Look me in the eye, stop what you are doing, listen to my request, and make your Noble Objection.
While staying courteous, firmly resist any attempts to persuade you otherwise, by repeating, patiently, your “NO”.
When you make a Noble Objection, you must remain open to new information that could change your assessment. If my attempt to persuade you otherwise gives you a new perspective, you must assess it. “NO” is only noble when the reasoning is sound: new information demands new reasoning – otherwise, you risk creating a didactic “no” that comes from arrogance.
… about the real reason for the “NO”. Don’t pretend there are bigger reasons than there are, nor blame it on other people. Taking responsibility for your “NO” is the only respectful route.
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Dr Mike Clayton is one of the most successful and in-demand project management trainers in the UK. He is author of 14 best-selling books, including four about project management. He is also a prolific blogger and contributor to ProjectManager.com and Project, the journal of the Association for Project Management. Between 1990 and 2002, Mike was a successful project manager, leading large project teams and delivering complex projects. In 2016, Mike launched OnlinePMCourses.
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