Learning to say, “No.”

Some people need to learn to share, and other people need to learn not to give too much away. Having spent my first few decades giving way too much away, I finally learned to say no.  I realized I had learned how at a healthcare conference I attended one November day a few years ago, during a somewhat bizarre experience.
Wandering the sales area during the break, I came upon a small selection of holiday gift items near one vendor’s register.  I found the perfect stocking stuffer for the various young girls in my family, a beautiful little manicure set. There were five of them, and I scooped them up.
The cashier was ringing me up when a woman perusing the counter saw what I had and asked, “Where did you get those?”
“Right over there,” I replied, “but this is all they had.”
The woman looked my precious manicure sets, then at me, declaring, “That’s not fair for you to take them all! Give me two of them.”
The cashier and I exchanged startled looks. I said to the woman, “I’m buying all of them; they’re for my daughter and nieces,” and to the cashier, “and I’m paying cash.” The vendor, who had been momentarily dumbfounded, resumed ringing up my purchase, at the same time apologizing to the woman, “We only brought five; we weren’t sure they would sell.”
Undeterred, the woman leaned into me with her face scant inches from mine, and said with great intensity, “Then just give me one.”
I looked at her and could not help laughing as I said, “No.” I was thinking she must have read Think and Grow Rich and was practicing her sales mojo on me, not realizing that I had read it too.
She became increasingly demanding that I give her some of the manicure sets, getting as in-my-face as she could, standing at my side as I stood at the counter.  I repeated the word no, pleasantly yet firmly.  More than a few people stopped to stare at us, as the woman was quite loud.  Only after she finally walked away did I think of asking her, “Does that ever work for you?”
Back in our seats after the break, to my astonishment, before I could tell her about the strange interaction at the cash register, my friend and colleague started telling me about a woman she had met during the break who had been very angry about someone buying all five manicure sets and refusing to give her any. My friend recounted telling the angry woman that the problem was not that one person bought all five, it was that the exhibitor only brought five to a conference with hundreds of participants. Ridiculously proud of myself, I said nonchalantly, “That was me.” My friend, who knows me well, was surprised and proud of me, and congratulated me extravagantly on being able to say no.
More recently, I went to a water park birthday party to help supervise the boys. At one point, having waited so long for a turn that the other boys and chaperones had deserted us, my son and I were enjoying playing basketball, alongside another family, in a pool equipped with two nets and two foam basketballs. As my son went to shoot, rather than waiting for a turn, a boy we did not know swam right up to my son, bumped against him and reached for the ball, saying loudly, “Can I have the ball?”
My son gave me a deer-in-the-headlights look, and I reminded him, “You can say, when I’m all done, you can have a turn.” My son said it, and the other boy swam away, reminding me of that woman at the healthcare conference years before.  So proud of my son, I was surprised to realize he was staring at me angrily.
I asked, “What?” and he said, “I don’t like doing that. It’s really hard!”
“The more you do it, the easier it gets,” I said, smiling. “I’m really proud of you. Take your shot.”

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October 13, 2011. Tags: , . Uncategorized.

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