How A New View Of 'No' Could Change Our Honor Codes

Feb 19 2014, 12:28pm CST | by

Someone tells you no.

If you accept it or go along with it, you’re considered weak – a pushover. If you don’t accept it, and fight to change it, you’re considered disrespectful – a bully.

It feels like an impossible bind, a big squeeze of shame.

We avoid hearing no all costs to avoid these two dishonorable labels. We compromise and/or manipulate instead, rushing to agreement. We don’t see “no” as simply one decision, nor do we view it as an honorable option in and of itself, even if agreement is not reached. Instead of continuing to seek agreement after hearing or saying no, we rush to a final decision so we can get out of the shameful shadow of no. We also don’t want to shame others, so we avoid telling them no even when great harm is going to be the likely result.

Forgoing “No” Leads To Immorality

I see this as a weakness in our culture that promotes immorality. Past cultural practices that were clearly immoral, such as the enslavement of people of African descent or dueling with pistols, were rooted in taking away people’s right and responsibility to negotiate for what they wanted. See Kwame Anthony Appiah’s excellent treatment of these topics in his book, The Honor Code: How Moral Revolutions Happen.

Our shame of being told no, our desperation to avoid it, keeps us vulnerable to all kinds of exploitation. The freedom to reach agreements in our own way is essential to the dignity and sustainable progress of human beings. Failure to exercise that freedom leads to the disintegration of social cooperation at all levels. Our fear of interacting with each other in more authentic ways prevents us from better exposing the elements of our shared problems that are simply not solvable in isolation from each other. It creates a paranoid culture whose members suffer from a constantly nagging sense of danger and worry that they are not doing enough to protect themselves.

This entire situation is fortified by an honor code that putting yourself in a position where you are told no is tantamount to a sort of social death. We “go it alone” instead, or “go along,” full of resentment.

“No” Provides An Opportunity To Negotiate

But there is an alternative. We can learn to relate to being told no, or saying no, differently. We can see it instead as an opportunity to negotiate. Negotiation has not been given proper respect by highly esteemed academics to the point where they have even tried to change its definition to put it in sync with the curiously destructive honor system that has developed around being told no.

My life’s work as a negotiation coach has been dedicated to making available a knowledge base on and opportunity for learning negotiation that can elevate our encounters with no to a more evolved level of human interaction. A system of negotiation built around everyone’s right to veto, or say no, creates transactional respect, honesty, and transparency. Since only stable, ethical, and profitable agreements can provide the necessary foundation for a better society and world, we have a moral obligation to elevate negotiation to a place of honor in our collective psyche.

Without No, Dishonor Rules

The real dishonor is not in being told no, or saying no. The real dishonor is in not rising to the challenge that being told no represents one’s best effort to seek agreement. Any effort to negotiate that is respectful ought to be celebrated. We should praise each other, and especially our children, for saying no. The word “no” prevents quick and shoddy agreements that are rushed into out of a fear.

We refer to such hurried compromises as the unavoidable costs of doing business, or of being married, or of being parents, or of being in politics. We call each other “practical” and “tough” for making quick decisions that avoid the messiness and complications that follow the word “no.” Not so. These are costs of being lazy, cowardly, unimaginative, and stale.

We can do better. We can say no.

Source: Forbes Business

 
 

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