12

I've seen a couple answers that basically say "No is a complete sentence." (Some actually say that word for word.) And while they're technically correct, it's incredibly naive to suggest that on a site where you're trying to work on interpersonal skills.

If someone asks something and you say "No." They are almost certainly not going to just accept it and walk away. They're going to ask again, nag, maybe ask why, etc. You cannot reasonably expect a conversation to end with "No." And even if you could, that's not interpersonal skill building! That is like saying "I found a way to keep my kid away from bad websites - I cut his ethernet cord!"

Good "people people" are able to break bad news in a way that everyone feels like they win, or at the very least those that don't win understand and agree that what you've picked is the correct course of action.

Imagine a question on Workplace.SE where someone says "I've handed out the assignments for my employees by they're not getting it done. What can I do different?" If someone responded "Remind them that you're the boss and that if they don't complete their assignment on time they can be fired." they could expect to get down voted to oblivion.

Also, as a policy it really doesn't work. It reminds me of the drug campaigns of the 80's, and abstenance based sex education, both of which revolve around only saying no, holding your ground, and never justifying your reasons (because when you start, you let someone else pick you apart.) They took the skill out of the conversation and said here's your one line script - stick to it. And statistically both of those efforts were a failure. According to Scientific American, what worked far better than "just say no" was, quote, "the most effective ones involve substantial amounts of interaction."

People don't come to this site because they want to learn how to shut people out. They come to this site to learn how to work with people. Suggesting that someone "just say no" and that they don't need to justify their answer is not working on an interpersonal skill, and we need to put an end to it.

  • "According to Scientific American" Is there possibly a link to or source for this? – user3169 Aug 29 '17 at 20:09
  • @user3169 Gah - I had it in my draft and rearranged some wording... forgot to put it back in as a link hahaha... – corsiKa Aug 29 '17 at 20:25
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    Tempted to answer "no." :) – SQB Aug 30 '17 at 10:11
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    @SQB I was so hoping someone would, just for irony reasons :) – corsiKa Aug 30 '17 at 15:00
  • Weird, I'm very good at saying no, but I never literally say "No." Usually, if it has to be one word, it's "Sorry." ("Can you help with X?" "Sorry.", with a kind of sympathetic smile.) – Steve Bennett Aug 31 '17 at 1:57
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    I find the reference to abstinence and (anti-)drug campaigns misplaced. Those campaigns are about convincing students to not want/do something (drugs, sex). In the questions you're talking about, the asker is already sure that they don't want to do X, they just need to communicate it - that's a completely different story. Also the quote of "the most effective ones involve substantial amounts of interaction." is (according to the article you've linked) about interaction between students and instructors and not between students and dealers. – AllTheKingsHorses Sep 7 '17 at 10:37
18

I disagree.

Sometimes, not often, but sometimes the best thing to do is to give someone a flat "No"

Part of developing interpersonal skills is realizing that you don't have to be everyone's friend in every situation. Some people don't deserve the time and consideration, and some people are plainly abusive. If someone is being abusive they're not likely to listen to any well reasoned argument anyway.

Also... Setting hard boundaries is an interpersonal skill. As is shutting people down when they try to cross your hard boundaries.

I'm not saying that "Just say no" should be an answer to every question, but in some cases it just fits.

  • 4
    To add to this, generally the good answers with this format begin with "just say no" and then expand on why saying no is good in this case. Often enough their point is that OP seems to not recognize the out provided to them by refusal. Saying no is a simple solution to a wide variety of problems. The reasoning why it works may be nuanced and would obviously be expanded on for a good quality answer. – JMac Aug 29 '17 at 17:55
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    Really having a hard time coming up with a scenario where just saying no is the best course of action... literally the only thing that comes to mind is a courtroom on advice of a lawyer, which is definitely not something we'd be covering. – corsiKa Aug 29 '17 at 19:11
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    @corsiKa interpersonal.stackexchange.com/a/1738/59 – apaul Aug 29 '17 at 19:16
  • Oh, that's the irony of it... because that was the exact question that made me post this. Needless to say, I think the answer is quite naive and does not do anything to build interpersonal skills. – corsiKa Aug 29 '17 at 20:27
  • @apaul34208 I upvoted that answer when you posted it, but as much for the last sentence as the first. If you had just provided one, and not the other, it wouldn't have been a good answer, and possibly even a bad one. – Beofett Aug 29 '17 at 20:28
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    @corsiKa it would appear that 110 people disagree... – apaul Aug 29 '17 at 20:29
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    @apaul34208 Quite possibly. Also quite possible that those 110 people didn't put as much thought into exactly what the answer was saying. Following that answer is a great way to lose friends, and quickly, as is every other case you issue an unqualified "no"... – corsiKa Aug 29 '17 at 20:34
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    @apaul34208 The upvotes on the comments disagreeing with your answer may be assumed to be downvotes on your answer since those HNQ visitors cannot actually downvote anything here without having 125 rep. – NVZ Aug 30 '17 at 9:33
  • @corsiKa Yeah, I agree with you on the linked answer. In general though, I think "just say no" is valid when that person has proven themselves to be a boundary pusher. For example: "My mother in law wants to tag along on my honeymoon! [A dozen examples of MIL steamrolling over OP's wishes in the past], what do I do?" In a case like that, I'd definitely upvote a "Just say no, do not explain, do not engage" answer. – Em C Aug 31 '17 at 15:22
  • @corsiKa As someone who upvoted apaul34208's answer, I find "Also quite possible that those 110 people didn't put as much thought into exactly what the answer was saying." rather insulting. Just because I don't agree with you I'm naive and superficial? Ironically, I find the notion that you can always talk an abusive, narcissistic, or egotistical person into accepting your boundaries by magical IPS naive myself. Or rather, I'm really irked by it because it slips so easily into victim blaming. – AllTheKingsHorses Sep 7 '17 at 10:07
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    "Sometimes the best answer is no." is the best advice I've ever gotten from SE. Granted, that was on DiY, where the right information in the wrong hands could end up in a fatality... but if your mom is coming on our honeymoon, I'll gladly take the former. – Mazura Oct 13 '17 at 1:39
  • I like this. Sometimes an explanation is warranted; sometimes it is not. I think that people when saying "no" tend to weaken it by defending their "no". There are ways to say it gracefully. The biggest challenge with explaining why is that very seldom do people want to understand why - they want to challenge the decision. In that case, a firm 'no' is most likely the best answer. – baldPrussian Nov 8 '17 at 18:09
  • I agree with this answer, except for the qualification "not often". There's no particular way to quantify this, but "not often" is not often enough. – davidbak Nov 27 '17 at 4:49
11

"No" is sometimes the right answer, if accompanied by an explanation and advice on the followup issues. Without that, it's just useless noise.

A one-liner "just say no" isn't helpful on this site. A answer of some depth that explains why this is the right approach is better -- preferably supported, since otherwise it's just an opinion from an anonymous user on the Internet. And an answer that anticipates the problems that will follow and explains how to handle those can be a good answer.

  • But there will always be a followup. And since there's always going to be a followup, why bother with the no in the first place? Doing so just puts you in a defensive position instead of steering the conversation to a resolution. – corsiKa Aug 29 '17 at 19:13
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    @corsiKa Because sometimes starting off with a firm "no" reduces the amount of follow-up necessary, even if it doesn't eliminate it. Any response that doesn't start out with a clear refusal is likely to create an impression that the person's mind is not yet made up. Starting with "no" sets up a follow-up of "I've made my decision very clear; there is no benefit to further discussion because I have made up my mind." – Beofett Aug 30 '17 at 16:28
  • @Beofett Starting with "No." and waiting for someone to react is just rude, though. It's honestly terrible advice! – corsiKa Aug 30 '17 at 17:02
  • @corsiKa there are cases where it makes sense to lead with "no", like if somebody is being annoyingly persistent after being declined several times already, or if something is blatantly over the line. But as I said, an answer on IPS still has to unpack that; the answer can't just be "just say no". Explain why. – Monica Cellio Aug 30 '17 at 17:49
  • "no" without explanation/advice is frequently not "just useless noise". It's an emphatic declaration. And that's what's required, sometimes. – davidbak Nov 27 '17 at 4:49
5

"No" works wonders especially to strangers. Maybe acquaintances too. And difficult friends. And problematic relatives.

Most people are able to recognize when someone is asserting their boundary. For some, they can't seem to take a hint. For some other, even a blunt statement doesn't seem to stop their intrusion.

For these people, "No" is a complete sentence. Of course, with explanation why just saying "No" + full stop will be better than other methods.

  • In my experience, no does not work well with strangers. They have nothing to lose by pushing your boundaries and in fact are encouraged by their friends to continue to push you, lest they seem weak. – corsiKa Aug 29 '17 at 19:09
4

As an original no-sayer, I'll explain my position.

If someone you have little or no obligations to asks you a simple question, both "yes" and "no" are valid answers, and the one asking should expect to receive one of both.

With the question I responded to, it wasn't clear to me why just a plain "no" or a "no, I'm sorry" was not an option. Some people find it difficult to say no, so they need to be reminded that it is an option to say no, without further justification.


That question inspired me to update the usage guidance for to read

Questions about how best to approach saying "no", or declining requests. Please explain in your question why just saying "no" is not sufficient.

(Emphasis mine)

So from now on, I expect a question to explain why a simple "no" is not an option, and any answer that advocates a simple "no" as a response to explain why that is the case.

  • See, I can't get behind this line of reasoning. Saying no doesn't work. Almost no one simply accepts a no. – corsiKa Aug 30 '17 at 14:59

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