For me, ‘no’ was a very hard word to learn. When you are a kid, the word is not really feasible to use. As a kid, you fold your arms, plant your feet and say no when you do not want to do something. Just about every time I did this, I ended up doing what my parents or grown ups wanted me to do in the first place. Sure I grumbled and sulked and may have even done a substandard job but I did it. In the face of adults, the word no does not hold a lot of power. At best it is met with a ‘why not?’ before they dissect your reasons and get you to do it anyway. It is true that parents use it all the time but that never made it easier to use later in life.
I went off to college and I studied theater. Specifically, I studied stage management which is pretty much the art of herding cats. A stage manager has a dual role in theater. They are both in charge and they also serve the needs of everyone in the process. If somebody has a request, it goes through the stage manager who gets them their answer. Theater is a very collaborative art form and everybody has a voice. In that gaggle of voices, the director’s voice is usually the most powerful and important. The stage manager usually speaks in the director’s voice. However, often stage managers must use their own voice which is the voice of reason.
Gauging the difficulty level of requests is an important part of being a stage manager (and being a human being, of course). When somebody would request something of me, my answers would range from ‘Of course’ to ‘I’ll see what I can do’ to ‘No’. The last one was the most difficult. I never wanted to impede the flow of creativity especially since I am a creative myself. In my mind, saying no was the same as becoming the enemy of art. I really wanted to please the people I worked with. I wanted to ‘yes and’ their world and let it be smiles and rainbows forever. It was easy to fall into the trap of using ‘I’ll see what I can do’ as a delayed ‘no’. It was hard to start saying ‘no’ when I really should be saying it. When the answer really is no then you need to be truthful and upfront about it.
To this day, I still struggle with the word no but I have gotten better about it. I try to catch myself when I give a hesitant yes and explain to the person why it should be a no. I also try to figure out when I should be saying yes. Honestly, it can be hard to tell the difference.