The Power Of “No”

I hear that the employees working at Apple stores are not able to use a certain word when dealing with their customers. (And no, it’s not “Microsoft.”) Those black-teed employees tasked to work the “Genius Bar,” which is almost exclusively the arena of Apple customers who have a problem, are particularly warned against using the word.

The word is “unfortunately.”

On the face of it, that doesn’t seem like such a terrible word to be banned across 357 stores worldwide and it definitely takes some thought as to why that word.  I guess “unfortunately” is a banned word because it is not helpful and does not suggest a solution. It prefaces a re-stating of some problem or, worse, the prediction of a negative result for some problem. Any way you look at, stating the word “unfortunately” probably isn’t going to help anyone who is looking to have a problem solved.

If someone is forced to buckle down straightaway with the chore of solving a problem without wasting time recycling all the tiresome reasons as to WHY it’s a problem, and thereby getting into a negative mindset at the outset, I imagine that can only be a good thing. Plus, there is opportunity in the word “unfortunately.” Opportunity to discover something else that is an unhappy offshoot of the original problem, perhaps. Or opportunity to explore the possibility that there is no solution.

The fact is, once you start a sentence with “unfortunately,” no good can come of it. Your mind picks up the thread and fills in the rest of the sentence and it never ends well. Somehow Steve Jobs and his denizens realized this. I’m a big enough fan of most of the wonderful things that Mr. Jobs created in his perfect techno-world to pay attention to this at-first-quirky employers’ edict.

And, of course, like all great maxims, it works across  other arenas as well. A marriage proposal with the word “unfortunately” in it is not a good sign. A job offer that encompasses the word “unfortunately” is not a positive start either. When you are moving forward with your dreams—while it’s important not to be a total fool about what can and can’t happen—I  would say that using the word “unfortunately” during your planning period will aid in booby-trapping your efforts right out of the box. You have enough things working against you without your language working you over, too.

When I used to jump horses, my trainer would tell me that if I heard even the faintest whisper of a voice in my head as I lined up the jump leading to the coop suggesting my horse and I would not be able to make it over, then I should know that we wouldn’t, in all likelihood, successfully jump it.

She was right.

One thing I’ve learned is that little voice in your head has big power. So big, in fact that in addition to forbidding it to say certain words, there seems great equity in training it to say “you are awesome!” or “you can do it!” from time to time too. Especially if you can’t find anybody to cheer your cause,  why not pick up the pom-pom and start things off yourself? Get into the habit of carrying around your own cheering squad in your head and you never know where you may end up!

Not to take anything from the power of “no.” But just imagine the power of “yes.”

9 thoughts on “The Power Of “No”

  1. That seems “genius” as usual on the part of Apple and should probably be implemented across the business customer service world. How did you discover this? What do they suggest beginning with instead?

  2. What a wonderful piece of writing to read on this week where every event or episode seems to begin with the word “unfortunately”, well at least in my case. I shall go forth and make sure the rest of the week is filled with nothing but a positive “yes” and I’ll see where that gets me! Thank you for your inspiring words.

  3. This is incredibly true. I really struggle with negativity, and the one thing I’ve learned is that, by telling myself, “yes, you can do this,” instead of, “unfortunately, you suck. So stop trying,” big changes in my attitude occur. It’s amazing. I think all writers — and everyone, period — could benefit from telling themselves yes more often than they say no. Even if it hurts in the end because you fail, at least you dared to give it your all and told yourself you could. In the end, isn’t that all we can ask for? Giving life our all, I mean. And the word no is so crippling to that.

  4. I see what you are saying, and I agree with the sentiment and the power of our own vocabulary, ‘unfortunately’ I would take issue with any employer thinking they have the right to control me to the extent of choosing my words for me. Does no one else see what’s deeply wrong with that??

    • I think it’s the old “whose bread I eat, whose song I sing” mentality. If they’re paying you a pay check, it’s probably reasonable that they be allowed to lay out certain conditions for employment, ex: dress, smoking, etc. and the prospective employee has the right to say “no thanks” if they find the requests too controlling. (When I worked in a corporate office, I missed being able to wear jeans every day but accepted that, if I wanted to continue to work there, I needed to leave the denim for off hours. I had a girlfriend who liked to wear really low-cut blouses and she was told it violated company dress policy. She didn’t quit over it either.) I don’t imagine people get fired at Apple if they slip out the occasional “unfortunately.” I think, as they say in the Pirates movies it’s probably more of a guideline. But it’s also a very Apple-y/west coast mindset that many people can appreciate as far as making one more aware of hidden negativity. Thanks for the comment, Susanne!

  5. Back again, this is a free country, even today in our “no dress code” world, all or most businesses have “the way we do it here” guide lines, dress codes, chains of command, lunch breaks, who uses what restrooms, even hairstyle and safety and where you park your car. set by every thing from whim to state and/or federal law. Many of those “the way we do it here guide lines” are part of what, a few years ago, would have been called corporate image. love it or hate it, APPLE is all about Corporate Image, it’s who they are. this being a free country, you have the right to work somewhere else, shop somewhere else, buy another companies computers or I phones, someplace who’s corporate image suits your style.
    all you folks reading this, also all ready know this, what we forget is that each of us, as mechanics, gardeners, artist or authors have our own corporate image all part of who we are and what we write. probably the most important thing you can do to sell yourself and your work is to polish your personal, writing and product corporate image. start by asking does my product, book, poetry, advertising copy and the places they’re sold, match up with who I am, the way I talk, the clothes I wear even what computer I own. Remember you are your work AND your work is you, the question after reading you book and looking in the mirror, is that you?

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