Carol Kallendorf, PhD, is founder of Delta, Inc. She is a top-rated organizational consultant, executive coach, and facilitator/negotiator. Carol is a Master Practitioner in the Myers-Briggs Personality Type Indicator (MBTI®), the highest level of recognition attainable.
In my childhood and young adult years, I spent a lot of time with people who said “no” most of the time. Some of them I am related to. It wasn’t so much that they said to me, “No, you can’t do that.” Instead they said a lot of “No, I won’t do that.” Wow. Is that ever a conversation stopper!
It took the form of statements like: No, I won’t learn that. No, I won’t do that. No, I won’t help on that. No, I won’t change that. No, I won’t adapt. No, I won’t grow.
End of conversation.
That’s what gives the “Power of Not” it’s unique potency. There is no conversation, no dialogue, no give-and-take, no collaboration and no compromise. All there is, is “NO.”
The Power of Not isn’t about skepticism. Skepticism is healthy. And it’s not about holding the line on standards, quality, or ethics. Holding those kinds of lines is the foundation for success.
The Power of Not draws an arbitrary and ungenerous line in the sand. It is always about defining and building boundaries. It is never about expanding boundaries. It is always about limitation–never about possibility. It is always about less–never about more. It is always about me (my comfort level, my convenience, my preferences)–it is never about others.
Our political dynamic in the US is sadly defined by this Power of Not. Unfortunately the same is true too often of individuals on teams and in key roles in organizations. True also in families.
It’s hard to combat the Power of Not, because the very act of saying “no, I won’t” significantly dis-empowers the other party. It poses the challenge of moving a self-declared immovable object.
So what can you do? Do you just give in and give up? I hope not. First, look into your soul and ask if you yourself are wielding the Power of Not too frequently. If the answer is yes, then stop yourself as you are about to say the next knee-jerk “NO” and ask how you could turn that into a “yes”–or just even “maybe” or “tell me more.”
If your team or your life is being ground down and pushed into gridlock by team members or life partners who are quick to set limitations, boundaries, and silos through the Power of Not, then it is time for you to have some conversations with those team members or life partners and counter their next “no” with something like:
- Can you meet me part way?
- Instead of “no,” could you try “maybe”?
- What would it take to change your “no” to “yes”?
- Let me explain why a “yes” on this from you is important to me, the team, the business and see if that moves you from your position.
Then you will need to lay out the consequences if the person continues to Dominate by No–and stick to those consequences. Is it re-assignment to a different role? A reduced role? Even termination? Or your own departure? Or an end to a relationship? If there are no consequences, the Power of Not will win.
Don’t allow the Power of Not to jeopardize the outcomes you need to achieve or to make your life miserable. Life, after all, really is too short.