‘No’ is a complete sentence.

This simple statement stopped me in my tracks this week. I was listening to my new favourite podcast, ‘Wiser Than Me’ where Julia Louis-Dreyfus (Elaine from Seinfeld) interviews older women. She was talking to Jane Fonda about life at 85 years old and one of her pearls of wisdom was from American novelist Anne Lamott - “No is a complete sentence”.

When I first heard this it sounded too simple to be true. It feels so abrupt to say ‘no’ without some kind of explanation but the reality is that N and O all by themselves will do the job just fine. No is a complete sentence.

Coincidentally this week I’ve been reading Never Split the Difference by Chris Voss who also has some interesting insights into the use of the word No. Chris argues that No’s biggest problem is that most people believe that it is a bad word. Its use goes against society's  underlying need to ‘be nice’.

While being nice may make things easier on a day to day level of existence it also ices over all the real emotions we might be feeling. Kind of like when you ask someone how they are and they say ‘good’ -  that ‘good’ is normally masking a hundred different things that the person is actually feeling, but we just say ‘good’ because it's ‘nice’.

Chris Voss was an FBI negotiator and dedicated a whole chapter in his book to mastering the use of ‘NO’. While it may seem contradictory, getting the person you're negotiating with to say ‘no’ is one of the first objectives of a good negotiation. When your counterpart says ‘no’ to something they’re ultimately setting their boundaries. When you’re negotiating with someone you want them to feel safe and in control and pushing them into a ‘no’ response is the start of building that rapport. 

“Triggering a “No” peels away the plastic falsehood of “Yes” and gets you to what’s really at stake.”

Think of those shitty telesales people who ring in the middle of dinner and ask you questions that you can only say yes to like ‘Do you like to save money?’ ‘Do you want to keep your family safe?’ A ‘Yes’ response can be disempowering and often we say it as a way of avoiding conflict, again to adhere to society's pressure to ‘be nice’.

When negotiating with someone, ‘no’ often means ‘wait’ or ‘I’m not comfortable with that’. It's not the end of the conversation but the beginning, when the meaningful part of the exchange starts to take place. We need to learn how to hear ‘no’ calmly and appreciate the value and authenticity it brings to our relationships.

“Saying ‘No’ makes the speaker feel safe, secure and in control, so trigger it.”

Something as simple as asking “Is now a bad time to talk?” instead of “Do you have a few minutes to talk?” is enough to trigger the ‘no’. If you're finding it difficult to get a no response then Voss suggests asking a ridiculous question that can only be answered negatively - like asking someone if they want this project to fail for example. 

If used properly ‘no’ is a far more useful tool in your tool box than yes. Being able to say no and sit with it is something that is becoming easier as I get older. It also helps to keep in mind that often we’re not saying NO to what’s being offered, but are in fact saying yes to something else that is more important to us. 

I go through phases in my life when it feels like I’m saying no to everything. No to the kids, no to Matt, no to my family. Sometimes this is because I’ve said too many yeses to work commitments and when I get stressed it's easier to have an irrational blanket NO across everything else to keep a lid on things. 

Matt and I say NO so often to the kids (and ourselves) that we’ve created a family holiday where we are allowed to say Yes. May Day is the first of May and our family takes the whole day off to do EXACTLY what we want. We’re lucky at the moment that Frank would be stoked with a $70 Nintendo game and Alice will want some kind of ridiculous glittery unicorn for about $50. One day the kids will ask for outrageous and expensive things but we'll deal with that bridge when we get to it.

In the meantime I’m going to deliver my “no’s” with more grace. I’m going to appreciate how useful and empowering they really are. No is not a bad word and in most relationships it allows people to truly be themselves. Let’s start saying yes to the no’s.

Video of the week
Barry Humphries reads a letter about a very grumpy cat
Podcast of the week
Wiser than me: Julia gets wise with Jane Fonda
Font of the week
Visconte: Font of the week by Zetafonts

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