“It is kindness to refuse immediately what you eventually intend to deny,” was a favorite quote of my mentor, Jimmy Collins. He used it as a teaching lesson about making people decisions. It was important to him, and to me, that we not drag people through a long selection process and delay, what sometimes, we know to be true — that it’s not going to work out. However, it is a principle that works for every part of our lives.
When I was a teenager, my Dad promised to buy me a car for my 16th birthday. It was a very special type of car that I really wanted. I know now that I had no business driving a car like that at 16 (or many other ages, too), but because my Dad had promised, my hopes were set on that car. My brother received a new car when he was 16, and I looked forward to my 16th birthday with great anticipation.
On the morning of my 16th birthday, I woke up early with anticipation of receiving my gift. My Mom gave me a box with a toy model of a red Corvette and the spare key to her “land yacht” sedan. There would be no sports car for my 16th birthday, and, in fact, no car at all. My hopes were dashed. I had already, for months, imagined myself driving into my assigned parking space at the high school in my new car. I saw myself being accepted in groups where I was previously not welcome because, now, I had a cool car. This car was going to be a life-changing event for me! I did receive a mode of transportation — a slalom water ski. I am pretty sure I kept the ski longer than I would have kept the car.
With certainty, I know that would have been a very bad decision to give me that car for all kinds of reasons. In fact, I am so sure of it, that none of my sons received a car for their 16th birthdays. They were given use of a family car with limitations on the use of the car. The big difference was, from the time they were quite young, my husband and I told them they would not receive a car at 16. They had no expectations. I think they may have still had a glimmer of hope as their friends received nice cars, but we had been clear so that they would not be disappointed on their big day.
Telling people “no” is often a very difficult thing to do. Even more difficult, however, and what we often cannot see, is the disappointment that comes when expectations have been raised and then unmet. If we know that we cannot provide our time, attention, resources or an affirmative answer, we just need to say so. It is the kinder thing to do. This principle is true whether responding to our family members, business associates, clients or friends.
Have you ever been stood up for a date or waited for a friend to go somewhere with you only to have them not show up? In trying to be nice and say “yes,” we sometimes fail to be kind by saying, “no.” When I try to be nice, I care what you think about me. When I am kind, I care about you and your feelings. If the date or the friend just says “no” to begin with, you can make other plans. However, when left to wait, the disappointment is two-fold. You missed the outing and also missed the opportunity to choose to do something else.
Integrity suffers and relationships are diminished when we don’t do what we say we will do. To reduce disappointment and heartache in the long run, say “no” before expectations are created. The longer a situation continues, the more expectations continue to rise and it becomes much harder to say and hear “no.”
Few days go by in my business life that I do not have the opportunity to make a decision based on the principle from Jimmy’s quote. My role at work requires me to tell people they will not be hired, or a receive a promotion or that they might receive a smaller raise than expected. Sometimes, I have to share with people that the project they proposed will not be funded or the new assignment they wanted will be filled by someone else. The saying that “bad news does not get better with age” is very true. It’s never enjoyable, but it goes much better when I provide prompt, truthful answers. Often I am thanked for being clear and quick. It allows the person to understand, move on and decide what to do next.
Refusing immediately what you eventually intend to deny will ensure your credibility and integrity remain in tact. People will not always like your answer, but they will respect you for treating them kindly.