Saying No Is Really Saying Yes

Looking through glass windows of a coffee shop

If you’ve been a loyal reader of mine for any length of time, you know I’m a coffee lover. And an avid one at that! I was grinding my own beans by hand (using a wooden grinder with a hand-crank) before Starbucks was a household name. And I was ordering those beans by mail before Amazon was a thing, before e-commerce existed, before McDonald’s sold any coffee other than regular and decaf, before the local grocery store carried any coffee besides pre-ground Maxwell House and Folgers, and before anyone had heard of (much less tasted) a cappuccino, an Americano, a doppio macchiato, an iced-coffee, cold brew, or frappuccino.

It was the Dark Ages for coffee drinkers in the US. But there were always a few die-hard, lovers of coffee who sought out special beans from Indonesia, Vietnam, or Sumatra. I was one of them. We bought whole-beans, ground them ourselves, used a French Press and ignored the looks of family, friends, and neighbors who thought we were weird. They were wrong. We were freaks! Coffee freaks to be exact.

I love the taste and smell of good coffee. It’s not the caffeine (I can drink an espresso 2 minutes before I go to bed and still fall asleep instantly). It’s the entire experience. Grinding the beans, smelling their aroma, the anticipation (I currently use a Chemex), and the first sip. Ahhh, heaven!

Great coffee exists in Kenya, Cambodia, Jamaica, Paris, Seattle, Rome, New York, Geneva, Hong Kong, and LA. I know because I’ve sampled coffee in these, and hundreds of other, locations. There’s also really good coffee in Lincoln, Nebraska – my current home. There’s good coffee in my personal residence, made by yours truly. There’s also good coffee in a couple local shops. One of these, The Mill, happens to have a branch located in the office building from which I work. Convenient!

I frequent The Mill for meetings, interviews, down-time, and, just in general, hanging out during lunch or after work. I’ve met colleagues, family members, job candidates, and fellow advisory board members at The Mill. Their coffee is pretty solid and the ambiance works well for my needs.

A few weeks ago, I was scheduled to meet someone at The Mill and arrived a few minutes early to grab an espresso, a doppio macchiato to be exact. I placed the order, paid, and waited. When given my drink, I knew right away it was not a doppio macchiato. My drink was to have 2 shots of espresso poured over (through) steamed milk that had been stretched until smooth. How did I know it wasn’t a doppio macchiato? It’s weight. A doppio macchiato is small and lightweight because it’s basically two espresso shots with a bit of steamed milk. My drink was, by comparison, heavy.

I took a sip to see what I got. Yep, just what I thought, a caramel macchiato. Not the first time it’s happened. The barista saw my look and asked if everything was okay. I was tempted to say yes. You see, on occasion, I’ll drink a caramel macchiato. Perhaps a couple times a year. It’s popular among the Starbucks crowd and it’s sweet (like a Pumpkin Spice Latte). And, a couple times a year, I enjoy one.

But I didn’t want to say “no” and cause a scene. I didn’t want to be “that” customer. The high maintenance, obnoxious one who orders a drink with 2 pumps of this and 5 pumps of that and soy and blah blah blah.

And to top it off, I’d been raised by parents that stressed being polite and socially graceful. I’d also spent significant time in Asia where you are taught to blend in and not stand out. But, darn it, I didn’t want a caramel macchiato. So I politely said, “Well, I do love a good caramel macchiato but today I ordered a doppio macchiato.” The barista wasn’t sure what that was so I explained it to her and waited while she made me a new drink. It was good. She did well for her first time.

This trivial coffee transaction reminded me of the importance of saying no. Great leaders develop expertise in saying no. They do it tactfully and with grace. They allow the other person to save face. But they still say no.

Of course there are times when a direct, firm and, perhaps, LOUD no are in order. If someone tries to push you into an inappropriate behavior, you don’t have to be graceful. The same is true if someone tries to take advantage of or hurt you. Say NO! But 99% of the time, a graceful no will suffice and it allows the relationship to remain intact.

Perhaps one of the most important things to remember about saying no is that in doing so, you are really saying yes. You’re saying yes to choice. Yes to power. Yes to being in control. Yes to getting what you want. You don’t have to be a victim or allow others to take advantage of you. You don’t have to succumb to pressure from bullies. You don’t have to accept mediocrity.

Learn to say no. Learn to be comfortable saying no. Learn to say no gracefully or forcefully depending on the situation, but learn to say it. And remind yourself that saying no is really saying yes. Try it today.

Hope you have a great week. Don’t be a jerk. Serve others. Be kind. Demonstrate humility. But learn to say no and enjoy a newfound freedom, strength and power of choice.

is an agent of change and is able to balance the needs of the business and the needs of people. Dr. Gerwig believes and practices the values of performance and delivery of business metrics while simultaneously developing and growing people into leaders. You can contact him at RobertGerwig[at]

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