Is it just me, or are people increasingly disinclined – or unable – to just say "NO". This behaviour appears to have become a social and cultural phenomenon which has permeated throughout our lives, both at work and outside it.
Instead of just saying "No" when every instinct is crying out for us to do so, it seems far more common these days, to just sit on the fence and respond with a 'possibly', 'perhaps' or a 'maybe'.
Three months of concentrated investigation into this phenomenon produced nothing tangible at first until I applied the principle of the 'Five Whys' to unlock the dilemma. This meant excluding a number of obvious and superficial symptoms until the root cause is finally uncovered.
So, to start with, why are people reluctant to just say NO ?
Over three-quarters of my small and unscientific sample responded that they didn't want to upset the other party. In other words, they wanted to let them down gently and they felt that saying NO would be just too hard a pill for them to swallow.
A rather shallow and obvious symptom of human behaviour perhaps, as opposed to a fundamental root cause of what we were ultimately searching for.
So why were these people so concerned about upsetting the other party?
Almost two-thirds of responses fell into a generalised category called 'being seen to be doing the right thing', which I took as yet another layer of the onion, to be peeled away and discarded.
However, when then asked why it was important to be seen to be doing the right thing, in excess of 80 per cent responded that they wanted to be well thought of.
This is, perhaps, a perfectly natural and instinctive reaction from most people, and could so easily become mistaken for a root cause masquerading as a symptomatic veneer of an individual's behaviour.
So, why was being well thought of important to them ?
The answer was that it made them feel good about themselves. At this point, we were getting very close to the real point of this exercise, because the fifth and final 'WHY' extracted the response that it made them feel happier; and isn't that a good feeling to have in one's personal and professional life ?
Yes, of course it is. There are reams and reams of research purporting to prove that people are at their most productive and effective when they are at their happiest. So there you have it, in a nutshell. People don't like to say NO, because it makes them feel unhappy.
So, in conclusion, although this was not particularly scientific exercise, it was one in which the outcomes were not wholly unexpected; until, of course, the process was reversed and the same individuals were faced with the uncertainty of having to face their own positive or negative outcome.
In that respect, they remained a distinctly and unhappily unified group, when faced with a situation where their own future uncertainty was exacerbated, and they certainly didn't respond positively to being 'let down gently'.
Indeed, the overwhelming and preferential consensus was to just tell it as it is; warts and all. It was no surprise to any of them therefore that if the answer they were looking for was not an immediate or obvious yes, then JUST SAY NO !