“You can say ‘No’ to this.”

In my first career — I was a Social Studies teacher – I had a mentor who taught me so much. He was my Science partner in a teamed teaching environment at a middle school. Rick is about 20 years older than me. He had another career in advertising prior to teaching and started his second career at about age 40. Rick can weave stories for his classroom that would keep students engaged for the entire class, and often laughing. He has retired now but oh my, he was such an excellent teacher.

Rick had a way of asking for a favor that was unique. He’d preface his request with the phrase “You can say ‘No’ to this.” He meant it, too. By giving me permission to say no, it made me consider the request without the anxiety of possibly disappointing him. It made saying yes truly an option and saying no something that could be done guilt free.

His requests also usually included the words “I could use your help.” Rick later coached me to not ask someone for a favor, but instead to ask for help. People want to be helpful, they don’t necessarily want to do someone a favor. Debts to be repaid are what favors sound like while helping someone is a more human and natural thing to do.

It is adding the simple phrase “You can say ‘No’ to this” that really made his requests for help special though. How many times have we all asked for help and then had people flake on us later because they did not know how to say no to the original request, or felt doing so would be poorly received?

By honestly giving people the ability to opt out, you get truly willing participants for the help you may need.

Rick has taught me many things over the years but giving people the option to say “No” is perhaps the simplest and most powerful lesson I received from him.

Photo by Vladislav Babienko on Unsplash