Gabazira's blog

The Effectiveness-Lab

Is NO the mightiest word?

How many times during a typical work day, do you say YES or NO to requests from colleagues? Do you assent to the ‘peace and harmony’ at work movement? Do you have more YES than NO in your work lexicon? Even more important, do you appreciate how critical the word NO is in deciding your level of effectiveness and efficiency at work? I assume that many reading this blog will experience a murmur, albeit internal, of acquiescence to the ‘peace and harmony’ at work movement.

Did you mean YES?
Did you mean YES?


The truth is that many of you frequently say YES than NO to work requests. We eagerly assent to the ‘peace and harmony’ at work movement. The ‘peace and harmony’ at work movement subscribes to certain isms:

  • Thou shalt not do anything that disturbs the peace and harmony at work; saying NO may unsettle others
  • Thou shalt avoid anything that may make you appear difficult to work with
  • Thou shalt sacrifice personal principles for group-happiness
  • Thou shalt not say No, or I am equated to weirdness and harbouring habits from planets other than Earth
  • Thou shalt not be a Naysayer, or I am considered a difficult character that should have no voice in the modern workplace

All the above is confirmation that in the word NO is deep negativity and discomfort for the human being. It does not matter how you present it, NO equals REJECTION and tell you what, rejection hurts! Apparently, the brain hates negative stimuli, and NO is negative friends.

In the word No lies incredible power to achieve the highest state of individual effectiveness and efficiency. While the word YES brings harmony to self and amongst communities we associate with, YES has a tendency to dominate over plus steer humanity away from the truth. Human beings shall say YES where they should say NO, and in many cases subconsciously.

Phoney YES at the workplace and the human cost involved:

Example 1:
Meetings, meetings, and meetings; A colleague at work invites you to a meeting and you know very well: the meeting agenda is not relevant to your work; you cannot contribute or learn much at the meeting, but you still accept the invitation. Should you not politely turn down the invitation and as well, be honest about your reason for declining? Be honest about the reason for turning down the invitation and avoid the temptation to sandwich ‘meeting-decline’, as soon, you will get another invitation.

Example 2:
The dreaded boss; bosses have it within their powers to direct us to do things in a certain way. Do you say YES to your boss, even when you know the boss is wrong? Employees do this all the time, and hide behind acclamations like: ’a boss is a boss’ or ‘the boss shall not take feedback from others’ or ‘I still want my job’ to mention but a few. A tacit NO can still be delivered in all the above circumstances. How do employees sleep, knowing they have said YES to something that may negatively impact the company? Do such employees consider themselves honest individuals?

Example 3:
The political side of work and self-betrayal; any workplace, including the Vatican has a political side. Politics, as we all know, is crafting ideology and selling it to the others. How many times have you been approached to support an individual or ideology that you know is fundamentally flawed, but said YES? YES, because you wanted to acquiesce to the ‘peace and harmony’ movement at work. How did you feel after you said the phoney YES? If you are the principles and values driven type, you instantly feel that you have let yourself down.

In all the three examples above, saying and defending the word NO, can go a long way in making us effective and efficient at work. In example 1, saying no to such meeting invitation will buy you time to do more important tasks as well accomplish your routine work commitments. We all know the results of not saying NO: missed deadlines, stress, poor performance, demotion/missed promotion/job-loss. In example 2, saying NO in order to keep your job may in the long-term cost you the very job you are trying to protect; this is because a critical mass of phoney YES’s will ultimately bring the company to its knees, and with that, your job. In example 3, you simply lose it by being phoney – to me, it is that simple! It costs you integrity, peace of mind, respect for peers and seniors and ultimately your individual brand and effectiveness at work.

How can one lessen the pain that comes with NO?

We all agree that NO, termed negative stimuli by psychologists is painful to the brain. However, it is possible to mitigate the NO pain. Mitigation is especially effective for those situations where the inability to say NO is a matter of culture.

  • Learn to replace the individual tendency to say YES, with ‘I will think about it
  • Massage language and say NO without triggering killer stimuli: ‘I would prefer not….’ ‘I would rather….’ ‘Let us agree to disagree…..
  • Contain your feeling by delivering NO with an air of zen-calm
  • In saying NO, refer to your commitment to others: ‘it is not your interest at stake but others..
  • Rehearse your NO and keep to your script: think about and stick to a phrase that delivers a clear, respectful NO

My takeaway: many of us carry incredible weight on our shoulders, 24/7, for assenting to the ‘peace and harmony’ movement at work. We say the phoney-YES and accept to be phoney. Well, what about the quotation below for a wake-up call:

Sociologists Roger Mayer, James Davis, and F. David Schoorman point out in their classic studies of organizations: integrity is as essential as benevolence in establishing interpersonal trust. It is a requirement for effectiveness.


8 responses to “Is NO the mightiest word?”

  1. muhangiafrican2 Avatar

    You are spot on. Saying No creates many opportunities for the right YES that waits on the corner.


  2. Here’s some advice I shared on for donors about how to say “no.”

    “Funders, if you know the answer is ‘no’, offer it quickly and gracefully. Respect the vulnerability, but also the resilience, of those doing the asking.”


    1. This is interesting reading thank you – whilst my blog article Is NO the mightiest word? looked at this from an individual (manager) lens, you bring in ‘motivation-cost’ brought about by funders that cannot say ‘no’.

      At the end of the day, the damage done by such funders + individuals in my blog is the same, only that for organisations, some of them resource poor, managers/staff not being adept at saying ‘no’ costs effectiveness and efficiency and ultimately – the viability of organisations

      Let us continue teaching others to say ‘no’ and seamlessly at that!


  3. This is overwhelmingly true not just at work but even in school or any other social setting, people are generally do not want to say no due to the need to appease each other.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Then say No, when you have to son!


  4. Thanks ABG again for this very educative blog. It has given me good mileage in improving my communication skills. I have always said NO and escorted it with sentences like, that doesn’t make a lot of sense, its is a waste of my time, etc. and this has always created brain negative stimuli to my colleagues.

    Today on; my NO will always be sandwiched. My only worry is; if I don’t say what my heart and brain agree is right, then I will have pain all day and a sleepless night! The other risk is to sound not assertive.

    Any more mitigations on saying NO without hurting others?

    Cordial regards,


    1. Seddu – thanks for reading the blog and I am happy it can make you a much SOFTER communicator.

      Mitigation helps us not to loose the message in the noise, that bluntness creates

      Keep it simple but firm and you will be ok!


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About Me

Apollo B. Gabazira is an Ugandan OD. junkie fascinated by matters that render organisations/individuals effective or not. He blogs on effective leadership and management. He is a devoted green-farmer and breeds the Ayrshire cow at Nakabugu, Luuka district, Uganda. Apollo is quite effective at what he chooses to do.


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