I’m standing on line at the supermarket behind a mother and her five year old son. Bored, tired, and cranky, the child wants out, as does the mother. The boy starts asking questions and for things. “No!” says the mother. “No” is the answer so many time that she is ahead of her son’s requests. Finally, in frustration she yells, “Don’t even bother asking me because the answer is going to be ‘no.’” We’ve all witnessed this type of scenario and probably are guilty of participation now and again. For some reason the scene stuck with me.

Later in the day, I was having a coffee with a person interested in knowing about my coaching services and me. Quietly, I started counting the “nos” in his replies. When we agreed, he started his next sentence with “no” or “not really,” when the question was neutral there was also a negative response. Despite his seemingly disinterest, to my surprise, he signed on for coaching. Can’t say I was thrilled. Were we going to go through the next few months battling? Well, I wasn’t and why should he? It made me question how was this behavior impacting his work life.

That evening I was making a decision about a personal matter, a possible vacation trip. I heard myself rather randomly saying “no” to what easily should/could have been “maybe” at least and “yes” at best.

It got me thinking -- why do even optimistic people sabotage their happiness and potential with negative thoughts and words?

What are the consequences?

Power: “No” is a powerful word and expression. Being in a position of power, as was the mother of the boy, gives many of us a sense of high influence and control. “No one is going to tell me what to do!” and “Surely, I’m not going to let you take charge.”

Protective: “No” can also seem to protect us from getting involved, submitting, or entering the unknown, or our fear zone. When we leave our comfort zone to enter our growth zone, we feel energized. Slip into a place of fear, and we often resist. Rather than pull back a little, we shut down all options or fight for position.

Distracted: “No” can often be a way of shutting off stimuli. You’re overloaded with requests, challenges, or even physical demands. It’s easier to close the door rather than leaving it open a crack. One of the earliest signs of burnout is taking on a universal negative perspective. Monitor it in yourself and those you lead. It’s a clear warning signal.

What are some of the costs of no?

Shuts Down Discussion: Nothing ends a conversation faster than the one word answer “no.” Even if it is not your intention, it’s often the result. I had a manager who too frequently ended her comments with the phrase “period end of sentence.” In other words, I am not open to hearing what you think or want, I’ve decided. Note: her entire team mutinied one day and she was out of the company soon after. Couching the reply with something as simple as, “I’m leaning toward no” shows the listener there’s room for persuasion.

Fuels the Conflict: Anyone with an adolescent in his or her life knows the easiest way to escalate a disagreement is to grind in your heels and stop the conversation, and demand compliance. While adolescents’ brains may not be fully set, they do have and are entitled to an opinion. Just having the option of voicing why they disagree with you, even though it may not change your decision, surely deescalates the battle.

Damages the Relationship: If you can predict what I’m going to say, before we even have a discussion, how often do you think I will continue coming to the conference table? How does that build on our relationship? When do we find common ground? What happens when we have to collaborate and cooperate? Avoidance? Splittering of loyalties? Looking outside the relationship for someone with a broader more open mindset? All of the above?

No can be a decisive and useful word when used at times a clear, concise response is required. “No you can’t jump off the high board,” or “No, you can’t fudge the numbers to make the sales look better” -- in general, starting with no gets you quickly to nothing. It closes options, minds, and relationships. It can feel like power, ease, or protection, though this is generally short-lived and a bit naive.

Here’s the challenge:

For one day, monitor your language and thoughts. See when you are quick to start with or jump to the negative. Ask yourself, “How is this useful in finding the best solution?” and “How might there be another agenda at play?” Search for options and opportunities. Practice them. What is the new result?

(c) Jane Cranston.

Author's Bio: 

Jane Cranston is an executive career coach. She works with success-driven executives, managers and leaders to reach their potential, better manage their boss and staff, as well as develop a career strategy to reach goals and aspirations. Jane is the author of Great Job in Tough Times a step-by-step job search system. Click here to subscribe to her twice monthly Competitive Edge Report.