Education Plus

Before you say YES


Before you agree to a request or make a commitment, take a deep breath and consider.

When faced with a request, how often do you find yourself mouthing “yes” when your brain is telling you to hold off, to think about it before jumping into an assenting mode? I’m guilty of this too, and a second after I’ve said it, regret follows. I find myself (metaphorically) kicking myself and thinking, “What have I got myself into now?”

We’re raised to be nice, compliant and agreeable. We’re told it’s impolite to refuse (except when offered second servings of sweets). We’re coached to accept rather than question in most situations, and generally, “no” is considered a rude word. However, we’re not always told that “yes” also implies responsibility and commitment. So while saying yes comes easy to most of us, following it up with action is not. We often say yes in the fond hope that the other person will forget all about it and not hold us to any implied promise!

Of course, I’ll admit not all “yeses” imply promises of action (often hopeful, but false ones). We offer the affirmative response in a variety of situations, and I’m only concerned with those where it indicates an agreement to do or having done something, in educational or professional contexts. I’m concerned with two particular kinds of affirmative answers. One, when someone asks you if you will do something, and you say yes without really thinking it through or considering whether you really want to do it (the spontaneous, well meaning “yes”). Two, when someone asks if a job has been completed and you say yes even when you have no intention of doing it (the automatic, uncaring yes). The second is more easily dealt with, so let me dispose of it first.

An uncaring yes

Let’s say you have been assigned to a group for an assignment or some class work. You’re expected to pull your weight and be upfront with your group mates. This means being clear about whether and when you will do your bit. If you can’t or won’t do it, for whatever reason, saying you will is a disservice not to the teacher or supervisor, but to your group.

In such cases, saying no might feel like a difficult and embarrassing thing, but it is the honest response, and will allow the group to get on with their work in time. In any case, the “yes” here is just plain dishonest and inconsiderate.

Often groupwork is held up just because one person set up (and continued to present) an expectation that was not met.

But more challenging is the chronic “yes-sayer”, the person who jumps into everything enthusiastically and then finds herself in the deep end, submerged in a sea of good intention and bad estimation. The tendency to say yes to everything often leads to a situation where you either accomplish nothing or wear yourself out. In either case, what suffers is quality and your well being. (Believe me, I speak from experience!)

Handling requests

Someone I know has a perfect way of dealing with requests. He never says an instant yes or no, but “Let me get back to you” or “I’ll think about it.” This kind of a response gives you time to look at your workload and figure out whether or not something is possible to fit in.

It also gives you time to understand the complexity of the proposed task and see whether you have the resources (time, knowledge, capability, materials) to take it on. So when you do give your answer, it has taken all these factors into consideration, and the “yes” (if that’s what it is) carries the weight of conviction and confidence. You will also be able to say no, if you have to, with solid reason.

In a classroom or educational context, you may not have the luxury of “thinking about it” and are constrained to give an answer immediately. If this is so, you need to develop the ability to scan your mind for your commitments and make a quick and realistic judgment about taking on this additional responsibility. You’ll find that most people are willing to understand if they see that there is honesty and forethought in the “no”.

Clarify doubts

A third kind of yes that can cause problems is the “ashamed-to-say-no, yes”. When asked by a teacher whether you understand, or by a client whether you are aware of the requirements/specifications, we often simply nod, hesitating to acknowledge that we have no clue. The question is an opportunity to clarify doubts, but we let it slip, and often this leads to delays and difficulties.

A common complaint in the professional world is that we are not upfront about our ability or capacity to do a job. We say yes even in cases where we can’t do something or just don’t have everything it takes to do it—and we hesitate to acknowledge this with honest questions.

So the next time you’re tempted to give that automatic (or spontaneous) yes, breathe deeply and hold off for a moment. Think before you answer. Better still, say you’ll think about it.

The writer teaches in the Department of Communication, University of Hyderabad, and is editor of Teacher Plus, Email:

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Printable version | Jan 26, 2020 11:22:18 AM |

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