Tuesday, July 5, 2011

(I Wish I Could) Just Say No

There are some situations in life where it's easy to say no. For example, "No, I do not want to get into your car, because I don't know you or your friends. Even though you may look like a bunch of guys who are just out cruising and think it's acceptable to yell out invitations to girls like me on the sidewalk who are not hookers but are just trying to go to the drugstore to buy candy (er, vitamins), I have seen enough Lifetime movies and episodes of E! Investigates not to get into the cars of people that I don't know."

Or "No, I do not want to invest in your company, because when I Googled the name on your business card to see what kind of business you were in, I found a bunch of online reviews from people with the word "SCAM" in almost every review. Also, I don't even have any money to invest, since I am a broke grad student who isn't even entirely sure what a "portfolio" is. If I asked my fellow grad students about it, they'd probably get into an extensive discussion about the literary significance of the word "portfolio" and then write scholarly papers about it."

But on the other hand, it can be hard to say no in other instances, because I often feel guilty about refusing other people's requests/offers. And in some cases, I have no choice but to say yes.

It's not like I am too chicken to say no, because I have learned to be more assertive and to put my foot down in plenty of situations. I just have to be careful about how I say no, however, because it's not like I can just say whatever I want without having to deal with the consequences. Here are two examples of situations where I wish I could say no and say exactly why :

To my students when they ask multiple times to be excused from class/completing their homework on time because of some kind of "emergency", which in some cases really is an emergency, but more often than not translates into "I didn't get my homework done last night. I don't want you to know that instead of finishing my paper, I was finishing a Real World marathon." Or "I don't feel like coming to class because I've only missed class, like, five times already, which is nothing compared to how many times other people in the class have been absent, so I should be excused." Or "I can't think of any reason why I should be excused from class so I'm just going to tell you it's an emergency. That way, you won't try to invade my privacy by asking me any questions".

When they ask to be excused, I remind them about how attendance is part of their grade; I also tell them that it's their responsibility to get their work done on time even if they don't come to class. I do enforce my attendance policy, but there are a few situations where I have no choice but to make exceptions. For example, some students have family responsibilities. A few have health issues that keep them out of school for several days (or weeks) at a time.

But on the other hand, multiple absences (and excuses) can be problematic because the students will miss out on a lot if they don't come to class. It's also problematic for me because then I'm stuck with a lot of late work to grade. If they have legitimate excuses for being absent, then I will try to work with them, as long as they put in the effort to make up for what they missed.

But once a student told me that he couldn't come to class because of a family emergency; I saw him hanging out in the quad an hour later with his friends. Another student e-mailed me about how her grandmother died; I checked all of the e-mails this student had sent and realized that that same grandmother had died at least three times. Not all students are like this, of course, but I've learned to be wary when I keep hearing the same excuses over and over again and multiple requests for time off from class.

So here's what I wish I could say: NO, you can't miss class AGAIN. Even though I love teaching, there are some days where I wish I could blow off work and just take a nap/watch TV/accidentally on purpose trip people who blow their cigarette smoke in my face when they walk in front of me. But part of being a grownup is accepting your responsibilities and doing what you have to do, even if you don't always want to do it. So if I have to be here, then so do you, kid.

To retail employers who expect employees like me to have flexible schedules. One of the things that you're going to see most often in ads for retail jobs are the words "flexible schedules". A lot of people who work in retail also have day jobs; they work at night and on the weekends. However, when you work in retail, your schedule is likely to change every week; you're much more likely to get hired and get more hours if you are available to work any time, any day.

This does make sense; retail employers can't always guarantee regular hours because it often depends on how much (or little) money the store is making and whether or not the employees meet their sales goals.

Also, stores aren't typically open from just 9-5, because that's when everyone's at work. So you have to be willing to work until the wee hours in the evenings and weekends, or get up in the wee hours in order to go to work (side note: why do they call it the "wee hours"? It's not like when I wake up at six A.M. to go to work or get ready to work until late at night I automatically think, "Yay! I get to go stand for eight hours and pressure people to buy stuff that they could get at half-price at one of the discount stores, but I can't tell them that because it's bad for business. I also think I may or may not have sold my soul to the god of retail for an employee discount. WEEEEEE!!!!").

I tell my employers what my availability is, and I try to keep my schedule open so that I can get more shifts. I try not to request time off unless I have a legitimate and unavoidable reason for missing work, and even if I do request a day off I'll do it several days in advance.

But here's what I wish I could say: No, I don't want a schedule that changes every week, because that makes it very hard for me to schedule anything else (including other paying jobs that would help me support myself, because I sure as hell ain't earning enough at this job to pay all my bills) into my life. Did you ever stop to think that maybe the other employees who don't show up to work/show up late/call in "sick"/switch shifts wouldn't do that so often if they had a reliable schedule?

FYI: I almost never show up late, because I always leave early to go to work. And I never call in sick unless I literally can't get out of bed. I developed this work ethic for all my jobs largely because of teaching. Most college teachers I know don't really get sick days. If we don't go to class, then there is no class. Even if I have a cold I'll go to class and just bring Kleenex, cough drops, and hand sanitizer with me; I don't worry about the students catching it from me because more often than not they're the ones who infected me in the first place. They're always coughing and sneezing in class, to the point that I want to wear a Hazmat suit when I teach.

What about you? What are examples of situations where you wish you could say no but you feel pressured to/have no choice but to say yes?


  1. It's called the wee hours because it refers to the hours right after midnight, i.e. small numbers. Also, totally interested in the literary significance of the word portfolio. I'm sorry, what were we talking about, haha...

  2. I hope you come down hard on those slackers in your classroom. Grrr! That would really irritate me. It isn't high school! The retail situation on the other hand is to be expected, because that's the kind of job it is. An executive at a major grocery store told me once that there's a special place in heaven for those who work in retail.

  3. The same grandparent died 3 times? Family emergency means hanging out w. friends in the quad? Wow! :)

    1 thing I learned was to avoid using the word FLEXIBLE on my resume. That just opened the door to problems. But in retail I guess that is 1 of the problems.

    Most retail stores are generally open at least 12 hours per day, 7 days per week so it's harder to fill that schedule. But you can only work so many hours & when you gotta say NO you gotta say NO.

  4. Hi mmarinaa,
    That's interesting about what "wee hours" mean; thanks for the definition! I always specify that I won't work after midnight, though, because I am more likely to wake up early than to stay up late (and stay awake).

    Hi Karen,
    It'd be nice if there was a special place in heaven for retail workers. I think it'd be a place where we'd get to rest for as much as we wanted. It'd also be a place where we'd actually be able to afford to buy the stuff we sell in the stores where we work. :)

    Hi notesfromnadir,
    At one of my retail jobs, I tried cutting down on the number of hours that I was available to work; it was just getting to be too much. But then I started getting fewer shifts as a result, because the employer preferred to give the shifts to people who were available to work more often. But either way, you're right in that I can't work too many hours. I'd rather get fewer shifts than too many.

  5. My instances involve my family. "Will you host the next family dinner?" I want to say no instead of running around like a mad woman cooking, cleaning, and ensuring everyone's having a good time while I do all the work, but I can't. Because they're family, ya know? I wish I could tell them no and not hear about it for the next five years.

  6. Hi Emily,
    It is definitely difficult to say no to family. They should help you with dinner, though; at the very least they should help with cleanup or bring extra dishes for everyone to enjoy. Maybe you could secretly hire someone to help set up the dinner before everyone shows up. That way you'd have a chance to have fun at dinner too.

  7. I hate when grandmothers die multiple times. It's hard on the family to keep reliving that grief. It's like, stay or die, but don't keep dying.

    Does your school have an attendance policy? It would help back you up with a #. You could be a badass in the beginning of the semester, asking for death certificates when grandmothers repeatedly expire. You'll (maybe) get some laughs, and make your point. Give them a max # with no exceptions.

    I hated working in retail. I hated having to be flexible. They always gave me more hours than I wanted. I had a hard time saying no in situations like that.

    I also have a hard time saying no when people want to pile work on me, but I've gotten better.

    Saying no to my kids? I'm excellent at that.

  8. I wish I could say no to anything that feels like an obligation and not like fun.

  9. My boss has a thing where she will ask us to do something crazy (like take on another project with a tight deadline when you've already asked for an extension on the seven other projects your doing) and we will say no, we have to much other work to do, then she will just ask us again.

    Although I must say that I have gotten better at saying no to people with work things. I recently told someone, "Sorry, but I have four deadlines today, I will probably finish this around 6pm, if you are still here and need help I can stay with you as late as you want to stay."

    As for students, I might be more liberal than I should be, I had classes at University where there were attendance polices and I would always get mad at them. Especially for classes that were heavily reading based. As in the professor I had who asked us to read materiel, than would read it out loud in class.

    But then I enjoyed Professors a lot more who said, if you miss a day you will not be allowed to make it up unless you have a legitimate excuse (note from a DR etc), no exceptions. Your paying to be here, you are an adult, if you dont come to class you will probably fail, and that is your choice.

  10. Hi Theresa,
    At most of the schools where I've taught, I was told that I could set my own attendance policy; I just had to include it in my syllabus and make sure that the students understood it. I always give them a thorough explanation of the policy, but every semester students will come up to me with more excuses and expect me to make exceptions for them every time. Sometimes they'll even have their parents e-mail me. What bothers me is that I'll let them have a certain number of excused absences; several students who haven't been absent yet will tell me they're going to be absent on a specific date, but then they'll say that they don't want that absence to count towards their excused absences.

    Hi Libby,
    Saying yes to stuff that are obligations is anything but fun; when I feel obligated to do something that makes it that much more difficult to do it. That is, it's more difficult to do something when I don't really want to do it.

    Hi Sara,
    I bet your boss keeps asking you to take on more work because she thinks you'll say yes if she keeps asking.
    Like you, I also liked the professors who were strict about attendance. That made me feel like they held their students up to high standards, and it motivated me to fulfill their expectations in class and in my work.

  11. Actually I dont think I was clear...I am disagreeing with you.

    I liked professors with no attendance policy but said, if you dont come you dont get to make up the work. Your an adult. Your choice. If you dont come to class and fail I have no sympathy for you.

    I disliked the professors that made going to class part of the grade, who I felt were trying to treat us like teenagers, who are not old enough to make responsible decisions.

  12. I have a horrible habit of of agreeing to do things i'd rather not because i hate saying no. I too feel guilty, i feel like i'm letting people down, but i don't think i should feel guilty. Why spend life doing things you don't want to just for the sake of others, it's not fair.

    We all need to learn the art of saying NO sometimes, the film Yes Man with Jim Carrey comes to mind.

  13. Hi Sara,
    I reread your comment and I realized that you were disagreeing with me about the attendance policy. Sorry about that! Anyway, the reason I have an attendance policy is because the classes I teach (freshman composition and literature) aren't just reading based; they're also based on writing and class discussions. And I believe that I am treating the students like adults, by holding them accountable for their actions; when they start working, a lot of employers won't allow them to miss too many days of work. But I guess we can just agree to disagree on this issue.

    Hi Alice X,
    I haven't seen that Jim Carrey movie, but it sounds interesting. I like him; he's always made me laugh ever since I saw him in that Ace Ventura movie.

  14. I used to have a very difficult time saying "no" and it was mostly in response to doing someone a favor, helping someone out or taking up another responsibility for a "good cause". I'm still really bad at saying no, but I've come to a place where I learned that if I take on too much, I won't do that thing well. If it needs to be done and it needs to be done well, sometimes it means ME not doing it.

    By the way, a grandmother who dies 3 times? I'm not a perfect student by any means, but I have never made up a family emergency to get out of a class/assignment; perhaps I've had enough REAL family emergencies that I don't want to put a jinx on myself!

  15. I think you taze the students who lie to you about family emergencies. Just wait until class is dismissed and you don't have witnesses.

    As for the others, well, people just suck?

    Glad to find your blog.

  16. Hi Teddi,
    I avoid using the "emergency" excuse for missing work/school unless there really is an emergency. I know that if I were to miss class on a regular basis, my students would not be okay with it; they're paying to be there, after all, and it's important that I do my job to help them learn. By a similar token, I figure they should make the most of their college experience by not missing class too often.

    Hi Wanton Redhead Writing,
    I'm so accident-prone that I'd probably end up tazing myself. It's too bad I can't read people's minds, though; that would make teaching a lot easier.