Someone mentioned to me in an interview this week that “No” can shut down the future almost as fast as it’s spoken. Their belief: that the word throws up a roadblock to stop things from happening. And that the roadblock can close the door on any conversation or relationship.
We were talking about getting people with different perspectives to collaborate. In that context, “No” may signal that the person is attached to their position or that they’re unwilling to try on other perspectives. Or it can signal the establishment of a boundary—a protective position to keep others out, to create the space they need to feel safe, to avoid being harmed again. The boundary can help them regain some sense of control in a challenging situation. Whatever the reasoning behind the response, it is not for us to judge. But it’s up to us to deal with it.
So where does “No” leave us?
Indeed, what’s possible when someone throws up a roadblock?
When I was a kid, I’d create all kinds of ways to deal with being turned down—from crying and temper tantrums to complaining to someone else or asking another adult for the same thing. I’d create and invent and try out all kinds of ways to get to a “Yes”. Sometimes I’d just learn to live with the “No” until something else came along that I wanted just as much. But over time, after repeatedly not getting what I wanted, I learned to avoid rejection by either not asking for what I wanted or by giving up and shutting down at the first hint of a negative response. “No” became “no way, no how, not ever.”
As adults, we don’t have to go there. “No” can mean “not now” or “not you” or “not this way”. We can honor and respect each other by clarifying what is meant and then gracefully accepting the “No”. Even if, to us, the response seems irrational or unwarranted. Even if rejection hurts.
I don’t think “No” necessarily kills the future. It may kill one possible future. But not all possible futures. “No” is just a choice. A choice that gives us access to the possibility of other possibilities. Access to people, ideas and things we don’t even see when we’re focused on getting to “Yes” with just one possibility.
So, in this somewhat strange way, I’m grateful for what “No” makes possible. Even though I can’t be certain what those possibilities might be.
This blog post by Shae Hadden is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.