Reflections from the Cockpit September 2006
"Your Right To Say No!"

Since March I have done well over a dozen different clinics around North America and I have heard the following question repeatedly raised by participants, "How do I tell someone I don’t want to paddle with them?" This topic comes up when I discuss teaching judgment. One of the examples was a gal who asked "what do you do with someone who has been complaining since day one and it is now day five?"

Before you hear my response you need to know I have a true Gemini personality. Sometimes I feel like I have multiple Gemini’s arguing inside my head. On this particular day my Brooklyn, New York half was battling my Santa Barbara, California side. Mr. NY wanted to bust out laughing and say "you deserve it for letting it go on for five days." Mr. CA understood the dilemma of wanting to allow people to be who they are, but also wanting to enjoy the peacefulness of the outdoors without hearing constant complaining. As is most often the case, all the thoughts go through my clearing house and a response is formulated after all of my personalities have made their case. My response was a question because I needed more info. I asked, "did anyone say anything to try and stop the offending behavior during those five days?" The reply was one I have heard many times before; "no one wanted to hurt his feelings."

This one example has shown itself in many different forms. It can be the paddler who has unsafe equipment. It can be the comedian on the trip always telling offensive jokes. It can be the one who is always late and unprepared. It is likely you have at least one in your group who may fit this theme. In January of 2005 I wrote the "Group Paddling Creed" which was one attempt to help groups deal with this issue (see USK Reflections). However, the creed only works if there are discussions and agreements. The creed works on the premise that we agree to give up some personal freedoms to be part of the group. However, how do we define acceptable behavior in a group? What rights do we have as a paddler? An article discussing paddler’s rights would be long and complicated and may be a future USK article, but for now, I want to discuss one of your rights as a paddler which is the right to say no.

You have the right to say, "I will not stand for that behavior." However having a right doesn’t mean anything unless you stand up for that right. The frustration I hear during these discussions is a result of expecting someone to honor your rights. I have the right to enjoy the peace and quiet and not hear you complain. Yet the complainer feels they have the right to complain as a form of expression. We are now back to the concept of communicating expectations when you paddle with others (see USK article "What Do You Want From A Trip?" Reflections from the Cockpit Oct 2005). The right to say no is one we all have. How willing are you to exercise that right and accept the consequences? Keep in mind that no one can make you do anything you really don’t want to do. Therefore you have a challenge when trying to change the behavior of others. They will only change that behavior if they wish to do so. I find that most folks don’t realize their actions are disturbing others until they are informed. The dilemma I find is the fear of pointing out an annoying behavior and offending the offender. No wonder behavior does not change and people get frustrated.

I have learned that behavior does not change unless there is some stimulus. We will keep doing what we do until there is a reason to change that behavior. In this case did the complainer even know that they were annoying others? As I heard it, the entire group was fed up with the complainer by day five. This person was a regular on day trips. This behavior was not new. The group knew this paddler regularly complained on day trips. When I heard the full story I responded with the following message. The only one(s) to blame on this trip were those who found the behavior annoying and did nothing to change it. In fact I even said, "you and the others deserve being annoyed by this person." I also asked, why was this individual allowed on a multi-day if you knew he was a complainer? You or the group could have said, "No, you cannot come on the trip" or "No, I am not going on this trip because I don’t want to hear him complain for five days." You could also take a different approach and that is honoring the individual by giving them honest feedback.

I have found that giving honest feedback is successful the vast majority of the time. Sometimes the feedback is not well received but that is the risk you take. If I really care for an individual I think it is important to let them know if they have a behavior that is not serving them around others. The method of giving such feedback is an art form in itself. Some folks do it well and some folks should never be the messengers. If you tell someone from your heart you rarely go wrong. I once saw the definition of a diplomat as "one who can tell you to go to hell in such a way that you look forward to the trip."

So the next time you find yourself in a similar situation where you are in the company of a behavior you do not like, you have the right to do something about it. You can say no to it in the ways I have mentioned above or you can sit there and take it. If you do choose to sit and take it, please don’t complain to others about your choice.


Wayne Horodowich


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