Trust Your No’s … and know what they mean

 In Blog, Effective Dialogue, Enjoy Life Your Way, Satisfying Relationships

(Time to read: ~3 minutes)

Do you ever have someone ask you for something and feel your body go rigid, as though trying to protect you from an attack?

In me it feels like a wall going up inside, or a gate coming down. The message is very clear: “No!”

But then immediately there is an internal second-guessing – a voice that says “you shouldn’t feel that way”.

Why don’t we trust our No’s?

Unfortunately, many of us have been taught very early on that our “no’s” are not acceptable to the people around us.

For example, if I was asked as a child to share a toy with a friend and I said “No”, my parents might use a series of escalating approaches – first to try and get me to change my “no”, to eventually overriding it with their own “yes”.

For example, they might:

  • ask nicely,
  • ask not-so-nicely,
  • threaten me with the loss of something I valued,
  • physically remove the toy from my hand, and, if I cried, remove me from the play space.

I want to be clear that I believe they were doing this because they loved me and wanted to support me.  They recognized the importance of being able to get along and share resources with other people, and they wanted to support me in learning to do this. These skills are also important to me and I’m grateful for their desire to support me in this way.

The Cost of Not Trusting Our “No’s”

Unfortunately when our natural “no’s” are repeatedly overridden by rewards or punishments, coercion or force, we tend to lose connection with ourselves and our own sense of what is true and right for us.

In my case, I went kind of numb. It was easier just not to be aware.

But how can we possibly be successful in navigating the challenges and questions of life without this built-in internal guidance system?

I believe we can’t.

In my case, the attempt to do this led to years of depression and significant health challenges.

What’s the alternative?

So if we want to both

  • be aware of and trust our no’s, and
  • get along with and share resources with others

how can we do this?

I think the key is to understand what a “no” means.

What does “no” mean?

“No” simply means that the strategy being proposed does not work for me at this time.

Side by side with that “no” there are generally many “yes’s”, for example:

  • Yes, I care about the person who made the request
  • Yes, I value our relationship
  • Yes, I want your needs to be met
  • Yes, I want to support you
  • Yes, I am willing to say yes to any strategy that also works for me.

And the one that is often hardest for me to recognize and trust when my body says “no”:

  • Yes, I am a caring person who lives in integrity with my values, including my values of support and contribution to the well-being of others.

It is such a relief to me to recognize that “no” just means no to a particular strategy at a particular time, not to any of these other things.

So now what?

So I’ve recognized that my answer to a specific strategy request is “no”.

And I’ve connected to all the things I, at the same time, want to say “yes” to.

Often the most powerful and connecting thing I can do is to put both these aspects of my truth out on the table, and ask the other person what’s coming up for them in hearing this?

Possible Outcome #1

Sometimes they realize that the strategy is really important to them, so they will choose to look for someone else who will say “yes”.

Possible Outcome #2

Other times, they will choose to share what’s leading them to make the request (in NVC, we call these “needs” and “observations” – other people use the terms values and facts).

If they make this choice, then together we can see how we might take all these pieces and construct a strategy that works for both of us.

I think of this as like working together on a jigsaw puzzle. And it can be so fun and satisfying when we find a way forward that works for both of us.

And even if we don’t, I often experience a deeper sense of mutual care and connection with the other person; as though our relationship has been strengthened by this time of joint exploration.

What about you?

When have you trusted a “no” of yours – and found that doing so contributed to deeper connection and care with someone in your life?

I invite you to celebrate the awareness and skill that led to this outcome!

What I do

I work with teams & team leaders who want to reduce conflict and increase effectiveness by learning to make decisions that honour the “yes’s” and “no’s” of each person in the team – and doing that quickly, easily and smoothly.

I work with individuals who are feeling stuck or dissatisfied because they don’t know what do do about a particular situation or relationship. I help them find a way forward that honours all their “yes’s” and their “no’s”. And they learn a process that can be applied to any other challenging situation they encounter.

Photo credit: © Natis –

Recent Posts

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.