Yes, No or May be……………

When our planet is undergoing self-renovation, we are fighting hard to adapt ourselves to the “New Normal”. As this goes on, something from the news kept bothering me for the past couple of days.

“US President requests, or rather orders for export of medicines from India”

Day 1 request was made and the word ‘retaliation’ started circulating the next day …….

Well, in this kind of unprecedented situation, no way I am getting into politics to discuss about what is right, Biased ‘WHO’,  CDC didn’t foresee this?, what is the secret story at Wuhan? …. Etc…

Let’s wait for things to unveil when it has to.

But I have been thinking about only the word “retaliation” – Why is it so difficult to take ‘No’ as an answer???

Let’s forget about the complexities of politics, business world and just focus on day to day life scenarios.

We should agree to the fact that, many of us are not ready to accept “No “as an answer and also there is another set of people who can’t say “No”, or can’t speak their mind directly.


Here goes a conversation between two friends……

Friend 1: “Do you want to help me this weekend?” –

If the response is negative, it usually is in one of the following ways.

Friend 2: “Sure. Why Not? – But my friends are visiting me this weekend” –Indirect response

Friend 2: “No. I Can’t” – Direct Response

Most of us choose to respond in a more implicit way, than being direct. It’s up to the listener to construe the meaning.

On the other side, if suppose a person responds explicitly, it is considered offensive by many. But saying No doesn’t mean that we are being rude, selfish, or unkind.

But still, why is ‘No’ considered such a dreaded word?

Is it because we have been taught those ‘culturally invented’ ways to be more concerned with what’s best for the recipient rather than what suits us personally? Especially a most common in cultural behavior in many Asian societies.

What is Collectivist Culture?

A collectivist culture, that’s based on valuing the needs of a group or a community over the individual. People prefer not to lose face in the first place by keeping a pleasant disposition at all times.

Asians strongly believe in maintaining good relationships even to a barely known person; Harmonious relationships take precedence over being right or wrong, personal agreement or dissent. In such cultures contradicting the boss at work is also not very appreciated.


People take pride in calling themselves more accommodating and gracious with plain ACCEPTANCE & and avoid confrontation. Else, they do DECLINE POLITELY without having to look at someone in the eye and say “No”

May be these culturally rooted beliefs make it hard to say “No” or accept a “No” as well?

It is just not a “no”, but even an honest opinion, or criticism (Constructive) is either appreciated or considered offensive depending on the situation.

Let’s roll back a little……

Parents/Teachers taught us to be honest and always speak truth. As we get older, we learn while telling lies in general is to be avoided, some lies are acceptable than others based on situational context.


A truth is esteemed in situations where a lie can’t be morally concealed. E.g. I broke your toy”, “I ruined your car”

Else it is considered as extremely unpleasant without bearing in mind someone else’s feeling.

“I didn’t like that painting of yours”, “No, that’s not nice” “No I can’t do this”

An unpleasant blunt truth, socially inappropriate can be replaced with a white- lie (pro-social lie) which is socially accepted.

But how we differentiate between the two types of lie again depends on social moral values of different cultures. Surprisingly in some South Asian Countries the word ‘no’ is so offensive, that they mitigate the word with a yes and say “not yes”. Sounds funny?

collectivism-individual cartoon-dissenting-opinions

On the contrary, individualists tend to  communicate in direct styles —  they say what they mean and information is conveyed unambiguously.

Well, my point is not comparing the social behaviors of Collectivist & Individualist cultures.

As such, each has its rewards and shortcomings and we can never conclude one over the other. 

And recent studies show growing affluence and geographic mobility contribute to the spread of individualism in a many collectivist culture, especially among the young and urban. But still the deep rooted ‘No Culture’ prevails even in modern young urban tribe.

Another scenario for the readers to think….

“A well respected coworker or a very close friend bluntly attacks your work, your passion”

First of all, we need to admit the fact that criticism is never easy to take, especially when someone tears apart our passion, our investment with blood, sweat & tears.

But we are talking about constructive criticism, which is often rooted in truth, even if it is not a sugar coated delivery.

(Note: Delivery of a critique message is crucial and also depends on the recipient’s nature. I am in no way supporting bitter or overly severe criticism with a notion to hurt another person.  In this discussion we are only considering constructive criticism)

How will you react? Proactive or Reactive?

Will you defend yourself? Or wait for a situation to retaliate back at someone who shot at you? Vigorously plan a revenge? Or just stop interacting and consider him as your worst enemy? Or was there something you now understand from this that causes you to reconsider your position?

That’s for you to muse…..

But, I believe we’re becoming very polarized lately. Unfortunately, we’re not giving ourselves the opportunity to learn something or work through it because we’re too easily offended by our critics.

Well, this culturally inclined herd behavior or conformism, basically going against one’s own natural instinct could damage our decision making skills in the long run.

At the end of the day we might develop an attitude that a big crowd’s opinion may not go wrong, which basically is a group thinking outlook rather than analyzing the situation.

Well, all is said and done, Think about it? Is it good to consider ‘No’ as rebellious word? Are we trapped with this word ‘NO’ in the name of culture?


On the lighter note, Think twice before you send a thumbs up or push a like button in your FB/Insta page for any message just to delight your tribe :).  And if you do still want to please someone, remember it is a vicious circle. Next time when someone gives a negative feedback, you will never build an attitude to learn/face it. You will feel it is totally offensive.



2 Comments Add yours

  1. Name says:


  2. Name says:

    Very nice cultural perspective on avoidance of ‘No’, disagreement and conflict . A lot of current leadership and management thinking is around how to foster the culture of nurturing differences , disagreements , healthy conflicts and ultimately clashing perspectives – they say that’s a bed rock for driving sustainable innovation in an Organization

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