What is behind the Power of “No”?

Mar 15, 2012

Last week I wrote about the Power of “No” and the hopeful shift in our culture and public discourse.  I received a number of requests for more details, so this week I will talk more about how basic principles in a Respectful Confrontation practice helps us find and embody the true power of “no”.

In my workshops and book on Respectful Confrontation, I discuss the power in having choices with your “no”. Many of us think there is only one “no”;  it is definitive, shuts off new possibilities and alienates others. The subtext is “No!” – the exclamation point implying that there is no room for discussion, collaboration and open engagement.

no!

We have choices with our "No".

Because we think we only have one “no”, we either do the above, or we avoid the above by not saying “no” when we should  and therefore sabotage and wound ourselves, leading to paralysis and disempowerment. Some think that saying “no” isn’t very “nice”. We are now seeing the culmination of decades of American politics being governed from this dilemma. You have the bullies, and you have the ones who don’t speak up because of fear of coming across as a bully, or who are disempowered by the bullies.

I suggest that you have another choice which gives you the courage and confidence to assert your “no” without it leading to a breakdown of relationship and collaboration. This one has the subtext of “No, and…” With “no, and…” you are clearly asserting that you take issue to the behavior, action, statement or approach of the other, AND as long as they stop doing that thing, you are prepared to continue the conversation. With this, you communicate that you value the connection, you are open to being creative and seek out new solutions, as long as they do it in a way that feels safe and respectful and where you feel that your views are being heard and honored.

This was mind-blowing for me when I realized I had choice in my “no”. This, in fact, empowered me to speak my truth more and to have the confidence to speak to people who have different views than I in the hopes of seeking out new solutions to current problems. Ultimately, when I felt more secure in my “no” because I could choose what I was willing to tolerate, and I felt I could effectively communicate that, I found that I was more open to to my “yes”. And “yes” leads to new solutions, deepening of relationship and the resolution of conflict.

The more I knew I could use my “no” when appropriate, the more willing I was to approach others in an open, curious, collaborative way. Those who could honor my “no” (and still maybe even disagree with me) have become surprisingly loyal allies; those who wouldn’t honor my “no” are no longer close to me, but we were able to part in a way that felt respectful and honoring to my feelings and needs.

Assert your “no” in a clear, powerful and respectful way to overcome the bullying and the polarizing; open to creativity and curiosity with your “yes”. This will lead us to the new solutions we are all seeking and the pathway to success and fulfillment.

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