Effective ways to say no to bad ideas


They want you to learn a whole new computer language, an idea that's about as appealing to you as a total-body, cold-water mudpack. Or your spouse just announced he wants to purchase a car so small and sporty that not only will you and the children never see its interior, but neither will he if he gains another five pounds.

Are you going to resist these worst of all possible ideas? Of course you are. But make sure you do so effectively, because ineffective resistance will get you nothing but the ill will of those whose ideas you're trying to resist.

Here are six tactics that are not effective when we don't want to do something:

* Grumbling. I know a woman who's been grumbling for 25 years over every decision her husband makes. A week ago he surprised her on their silver wedding anniversary with first-class airline tickets to London. Her response? "Humph! Well, I guess it doesn't matter whether I want to go or not -- you've already made the decision."

This sort of resistance neither gets her the good feelings (and gratitude) that might come her way if she were a willing, enthusiastic, supportive partner nor gets her husband's attention anymore.

He's learned to ignore her chronic, ineffective grumbling, which leaves her feeling powerless, resentful and even more inclined to grumble.

* Asking questions. "Can we afford it?" "Will it work?" "Are you sure it will work?" "Are you sure we can afford it?" It may feel less confrontational and therefore safer to ask questions instead of making statements about how we feel, but endless questions are not the way to ensure that our opinions and concerns are taken seriously.

* Turning stupid. Sometimes we make it clear that we're too slow, clumsy, untrained, shy, timid, sensitive, old-fashioned -- something -- to do whatever it is we don't want to do in the first place. This is never a good idea. It just makes us look . . . well, stupid.

* Stalling. This is when we agree to do whatever it is someone else wants us to do, then are just too busy, too distracted, too scattered, too overloaded -- too something -- to ever quite get around to doing it.

* Complaining about the pieces of the idea we don't like instead of being honest about how we feel in general. Most often this involves starting sentences with, "I don't mean to complain, but . . . "

* Recruiting. Using up our time and energy explaining to everyone what a ridiculous, impractical, ill-considered, hare-brained idea this is except to the person(s) who actually has the power to take action.

Here are four effective ways to react, on the other hand, the next time your boss -- or anyone else -- comes up with a perfectly dreadful idea:

* Listen carefully before passing judgment. Don't interrupt. Don't demonstrate in any way that your mind is anything but open. This is not only common courtesy, but will ensure that you hear the whole idea.

* Ask for time to think before you respond. Say something like: "Thanks for sharing this with me," or, "I think I understand what you have in mind," then ask for a specific amount of time to consider the proposal.

If you need more information, gather it. If you want the opinions of others, seek them. If you need time alone, take it. Do whatever you need to do to make a firm decision that you're prepared to stick by no matter what -- even if you have some (perfectly natural) mixed feelings about it down the road.

* If you decide to give in on this one, do so in a pleasant, positive, enthusiastic manner. Grudging acquiescence will neither get you out of doing whatever the other person wants you to do nor gain you the rewards that might come with cheerful acceptance.

* If your decision is to resist, on the other hand, use short, simple, declarative "I" statements to say so. Don't try to enlighten, convince, persuade or make the other person see what a dumb idea this is. Don't whine, make excuses, put yourself down, or speak in generalities.

Simply say something like, "I won't be able to do such and such because . . . " The person you're talking to may not like what you have to say (you have no control over this), but you will almost certainly like yourself better when you make clear decisions about what you are -- and are not -- willing to do, and stick to them.

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