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Just Say No

Vanessa Patrick is a marketing professor at the University of Houston. She used to be at the University of Georgia, where I now am, but that was before my time. (One of her stories in her book, The Power of Saying No, does involve an Athens, Georgia restaurant. The restaurant was meaty, so not really for me, but it was nice to see a local connection). To return to the topic at hand, the basic idea behind Patrick’s book is to help the reader with saying no. To not just go along with unnecessary/pointless tasks to get along with people.

Should You Say No More?

Partick has made the crossover from marketing professor to leadership advice. The advice is even more general than that, really the advice applies to personal lives too. This is great because it allows for a much larger audience — sadly, not everyone buys books about marketing. The book has a large number of great stories. Including one where we were asked to imagine what American Ballet would have been like in a counterfactual world. This probably resonates more with other people than me. Would ballet have been more of a laugh in an alternative world? Ballet scares me — you have to admire the work they put in but wouldn’t the world be better if they just didn’t do it and spared their feet?

The story she starts the book with is about, when she was younger, wasting her birthday waiting for a pointless fax from a client because her boss demanded it. This is an especially strong story. (For younger readers a fax was a way of sending written messages. Normal people no longer use them because the technology was total shit. You will occasionally be asked for a fax number on forms, just say no).

Getting To No

Patrick’s advice is that you must be ready to push back. Some tasks aren’t the right ones for you to do. People ask, still this doesn’t mean you have to say yes.

Clearly, people differ in how much they need this advice. I was pleased that I scored medium on the survey questions. A high score means that you really need to say no more. A low score seems to me to mean that you might be a bit of an arse. Medium seems right to me.

The author’s advice chimes with what I have seen. She notes that women often end up taking on ‘non-promotable’ tasks at work and doing more than their fair share in their home and social lives. Patrick’s advice should help you say no a bit more if that is your problem.

That’s Me In The Spotlight

Why do people say yes when they really want to go with no? One reason is that they feel in the spotlight.

The spotlight effect phenomenon is an egocentric bias in which people tend to believe that they are being noticed more than they really are.

Patrick, 2023, Page 42

They think everyone is looking at them and so had better say yes. Patrick argues that everyone feels the spotlight in social situations but women also tend to feel the spotlight even when they are asked one-on-one. She gives suggestions for how to deal with the situation. How do you go about learning to say no? Buying yourself some time can work. Do you really need to say yes immediately? Why not delay as you won’t feel as much pressure to say yes when you finally make the decision?

A Stadium Proposal

Patrick talks about the ultimate spotlight effect — a stadium proposal. The camera goes on you, and thousands of eyes turn towards you. It is hard to say no.

Stadium Proposal Moment: A situation that puts you in an awkward position so that you feel unable to say no.

Patrick, 2023, page 272

I was relieved to read this. Previously I was worried that I was just a bit boring having proposed to my wife at our house. Now I know I was just being very respectful of her right to say no.

Avoiding The Spotlight: Help With Learning To Say No

Learning To Say No

Learning to say no can be an important skill. If you need to say no more, this is the book for you.

For other interesting leadership books that have wider application see here, here, and here.

Read: (2023) The Power of Saying No: The New Science of How to Say No that Puts You in Charge of Your Life, Sourcebooks

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