When No Means No

by | March 16, 2011

A country song a few years back asked the question: “What part of no don’t you understand?” It is a question that we sometimes need to ask our learners because some clearly will not believe that NO is the answer, no matter at which level the decision was made.

I know that many of us do not want to hear a NO. And some of us will not accept a NO. But you have to understand that sometimes, the only answer can be a NO. Just because you want to be able to do something does not mean that you will be able to do it. For example, just because you want to take a course that is not in your specialization and for which you do not have prerequisites, it does not mean that you will be able to take that course.

Any time you are given a NO for an answer, it is a safe bet that you are not just given a NO to your request. You are probably also given some reasons why your request can not be granted. Before you explode and begin to verbally abuse the messenger, please step back for a moment to examine the reasons. Let us look at the example of you wanting to take just the one course in another specialization or department. Of course, you have a reason for wanting to take it—perhaps because that one course will lead to licensure in your state. But the course you are looking at is, in fact, the capstone course in that specialization. It is a course that those who are in that specialization have been working toward since they began the program. Or it is the practicum or internship that those in that specialization have been working toward – a practicum or internship that requires a whole host of prerequisites and a demonstration of the individual’s fitness for practice as determined through the coursework process.

Depending upon the specialization and the school, granting permission might put the program’s accreditation status at risk. Programs that require learners to take a practicum or an internship are able evaluate each learner through the coursework and residencies. Programs here and at other institutions are unlikely to allow learners with whom they are not familiar to represent their program in a practicum or internship.

Decision makers have many good reasons for saying NO. Those of us who are told NO need to take a step back, review the reasoning and just move on.

2 Responses to "When No Means No"

  1. John Spitzberg says:

    I am 72 years old and feel that I have just been put in my place. I am not too old for being admonished, but I think it always ironic that messages like the above are always written by those who have the power to say “No.” How convenient.
    With all the talk on empowerment, one is forced to ask the question, whose? Students are, by the very nature of institutional life, marginalized enough. We pay to do incredible amounts of work and then evaluated by people who determine whether we are successful or not. Where is the empowerment in that structure?
    I suggest that the people who wrote this diatribe ought to be asking themselves questions like, Are we asking people to become automatons?
    Are we suggesting that once the hierarchy speaks, love it or leave it?
    This mentality is dangerous in a society which espouses critical thinking. People who make decisions affecting the lives of others may be wrong and they should not quell dissension so that their decisions will not be challenged and given full voice. This is my opinion, but you can tell me I am wrong. I won’t say “NO”!

  2. Constance Davis says:

    Thank you, John, for raising some interesting questions about NO. Not for a moment am I suggesting that learners become automatons. Instead, use those critical thinking skills to help you understand those times when NO can only mean NO.

    Let me give you a few other examples of when we say NO. First, some learners are going to hear NO to a proposed topic – perhaps repeatedly – until the proposed topic actually will work. That happens at every doctoral-granting institution – but each institution has very specific criteria and standards for dissertation topics. Proposed topics will not be approved until they reach the required standards. Second, no dissertator is allowed to begin his/her research until after the IRB approval is official and the final proposal conference call has been held. Anyone who begins to collect data before the IRB approval will likely be required to start the dissertation process again.

    Look at the many other ways you see NO around you each day. It might come in the form of the signs along streets and roads. One-way streets have signs that say “Do not enter.” Is that a NO that you challenge or accept? Shallow hotel swimming pools have signs that say: “No Diving.” Do you try it anyway? When you pull into a gas station to top off your tank, you will see signs that say: “No Smoking.” Do you decide to light up anyway?

    What is the common feature in all of these NO messages? All of them are designed to protect you and others. I understand that many of us have that visceral reaction to hearing NO to a request. But please step back, employ those critical thinking skills, and understand that in the end, that NO will save you a great deal of time and frustration.