Negative, Ghost Rider: The Art of Saying No

23 Mar

“What does this email mean?” a friend of mine asked a few years ago after going on a few dates with a certain guy.  He had written “Negative, Ghost Rider” in response to a dinner date request.  To me, the email was self-explanatory.  He wanted to meet her for dinner that night, like she had requested, but he couldn’t.  Simple.  Succinct.

But we’ve all experienced those moments (at least all of us females have).  You receive a “No” but you want to know what kind of No it is. Is it a No, Never.  Or a No, I want to but I have other plans.  Or a No, I want to but not with you. Or a No, that sounds boring. Or a No, I’m just not in the mood.

Most guys get frustrated at this point.  They answered the question: No.  There was a 50% chance of No and a 50% chance of Yes. So why are we still upset or acting confused?  It’s because, as women, the No/Yes answer was completely peripheral to the real question: Do you want to spend time with me?  We don’t care if the answer is No, I can’t. We just want a reassuring “But I wish I could” in the same breath.

My friend and I now use “Negative, Ghostrider” or “NG” as shorthand in our communications.  If she asks to meet for a lunch run and I reply with “NG” it means “I want to, but I can’t.  Sorry!  Ask again.”

When you couple a genuine affirmative statement with a negative one, people are generally able to swallow the negative.

In the business world, what does “No” mean?  Does it mean “Good idea, but we don’t have the time or the resources.”  Does it mean “Really bad idea.”  Does it mean “I will say it is a bad idea but then pass it off to upper management as my own good idea?”  There are a lot of nuances to No.  It is not as straightforward a word as Yes.

When you  have to say No, it makes sense to include a positive affirmation.  An explanation for why you are saying No.  Not merely to justify and defend your answer but to help the other party understand your reasoning.  If they have a good idea but it’s not financially possible, let them know. Maybe they can explore other avenues.

When you have to hear No, you need to recognize that it is not a rejection of you as a person. And not necessarily a dismissal of your idea or offer.  If you aren’t being told why, just ask. The reason may surprise you.

Will this always work?  Will you never again cringe when hearing the word “No?” Negative, Ghost Rider. There will still be disappointment and confusion from time to time. But be clear about each No and why No is the right answer at that time and the manner in which you present your No and you will find that people are just as receptive as when you are able to say Yes.

And throwing in a Top Gun quote every now and again can only help.

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