Bernie Anderson
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the blog

Current musings, whatever they may be. 

Saying “No” in a Culture of “Yes”


The most powerful two-letter sentance in the English language is “No”.

It’s a simple sentence. It’s a complete sentence. It’s often the first sentence we learn as toddlers.

Yet, as adults, it can be the toughest two letters in the English language to say.

I’m currently traveling in Cambodia. Cambodia has a culture of never saying “no”. It’s impolite and it’s rude. Agree to everything and you can figure it out along the way.

I ask a tuk-tuk driver, “Do you know how to get here?”

He replies, “Yes, yes, I know!”

20 minutes later he’s asking directions from folks on the side of the road. He didn’t know. But he had to say, “yes.” Missed appointment. Missed expectations.

While a culture of “yes” seems polite, at the end of the day, the results are underwhelming.

It’s one thing to deal with a “yes culture” in an entire country (An entire region, really. Much of Southeast Asia is this way), it’s another thing to be okay with a “yes culture” in our own lives.

“Yes” may seem like the right thing to. say. It may feel good. I can’t say “no” to my boss. Or to my client. Or to my friends or family.  It’s just polite. I can’t be rude.

But, sometimes, “no” is the kindest thing you can say and the greatest opportunity you can take.

“No” gives the possibility to overwhelm. To do the unexpected. To over-deliver on every expectation.

“No” is a powerful sentence. It’s also liberating.