The Power of Knowing When to say No.


Book Title: NO! How One Simple Word Can Transform Your Life
Jana Kemp
Publisher: AMACOM/American Management Association
Year of Publication: 2005

I do not know where this song originated, but I can remember singing, rhyming or hearing it sang by kids in lower classes. That was over 40 years ago. Even my kids still rhyme it today. I’ve not heard if from any of my boys in a long while. However, at home last week, when I deliberately started hymning it slowly, one of my boy’s caught up with me and completed the second half of the rhymes.

How many times have you find yourself saying, “Yes”, when you really mean to say, “No”? This type of quandary are repeatedly face by all at one time or the other. O, how we so much surcharge ourselves – always defaulting to “Yes”. And, how much power, credibility and how much integrity we unwittingly often forfeit in the process?

If you’ve ever being in this situation, then, author Jana Kemp’s book, NO! How One Simple Word Can Transform Your Life, might just be the answer you need.

In agreement with the author, “No is not a bad word. In fact, sometimes no is the most honest, reasonable and ethical response that a situation calls for.”

Why then do most people resort to saying ‘Yes” when the most appropriate answer to give in many situations is “No”? As adduced by the author, there are many reasons for this – pressure of the work environment, the need to be in the good-books of our bosses at work, the desire to be seen as a team-player, or just the momentary need to get the heat and the pressure off our backs.

Giving a wake-up call on the need to reclaim the power of No, the author, Jana Kemp, explained the demerits of always saying yes even in situations where no should have been the best response as follows:

  • When we say yes to everything and everyone, we end up losing ourselves, our time, and in some cases our lives.
  • When we say yes to every request and demand, we become our own worst enemies. And we make ourselves victims of our constant decisions to say yes.
  • When we fail to say no to others, they are in effect invited to turn on us. And they can feel invited to do to us, without us, or for us things that we do not want done.

So, what is your typical response when demands are made on your time, presence and commitments? According to the author, there are three main type of people classified according to their responses to typical situations. They are as follows:

  • The Master of No (you can say no effectively)
  • The Waffler (you mostly say maybe)
  • A Yes-ism Person (you usually say yes).

So, to which of these classes do you belong?

The author, Jana Kemp offer eye-opening self-assessment tests to enable you determine which of the above three categories one falls into.

Saying yes always is not necessarily bad in and of itself, but, a default response of “yes” in all situations and at all times could be detrimental to individuals and the progress of organizations and their management. Saying No is not always easy and at times it easier to line-up with the majority who say yes even when yes is unsafe and dangerously detrimental on the long-run. How then can you recognize when to say yes and when no is the best response? The answer, according to the author is in the Power of No Model. This model from the author provides readers with decision points that will guide them at reaching the best response in such situations. The author’s model is made up of five decision points that are easily remembered by the acronym POWER:

Emotional Ties
Rights and Responsibilities.

“These five decision-points include subsets of questions, conversations, and agreements that will lead you to say yes and to say no when it is most fitting. These subsets of discussion will also help you to protect yourself and others as you determine whether you’ll say yes or no to a request, an invitation, or a demand. Once you’ve learned to apply the Power of No Model, it takes just a few minutes to apply and to use in a conversation.”

Dr Jana Kemp also proffered suggestions on how one can use this POWER of No Model to make more effective Yes & No Decisions as in the following example:


When building a yes statement that means yes, you want all YES answers to the Power of No Model questions that follow.

  1. Purpose: Does the word yes appear in the sentence?
  2. Options and Resources: Do you know what your options and resources are to help get this done?
  3. When: Does the sentence say clearly when your yes takes effect?
  4. Emotional Ties: Have you acknowledged how you feel about what you are going to say?
  5. Rights: Have you considered your rights, responsibilities, and the consequences of saying yes?

If you can’t say yes to all five of these questions, you may be putting yourself in the maybe-waffler position, a position in which others may think you are not answering or are saying no. If you find yourself saying no to any of these questions, ask for more information that will help you discover the details of each of the Five Powers of No. Then, revisit these five questions and make your clear internal yes or no decision so that you can state your best response out loud and follow through.

In summary, when using the Power of No Model, answering yes or no to the questions below will help you to arrive at more effective “Yes’ or “No” responses. These are

Purpose: Do I understand the purpose?
Options and Resources: Have I been given options? Do I need them?
When: Can I deliver on the requested deadline?
Emotional Ties: Do I feel good about taking this on?
Rights and Responsibilities: Are my rights being respected?

If you end up with more yes answers to these questions, yes might be the best answer or response. If you end up with more no answers to these questions, then no is the best response. Make your best possible decision.

True leaders


(Image Source:

All quotations and brief excepts are from the book:
NO! How One Simple Word Can Transform Your Life
AMACOM/American Management Association,  2005