Hearing the word "no" can stimulate a lot of pain in some people. For some it may stir up feelings of anger, resentment, frustration and sadness. Others may think that they are being rejected or neglected when they hear this powerful two letter word. It is quite incredible that two letters can stir up so much discomfort.
How can we say "no" in a way that increases the probability that people will not experience emotional pain?
Marshall Rosenberg, the author of the book Nonviolent Communication, shared in one of his workshops that we can do three things to increase the likelihood that people will recieve our "no" in a positive way. These three things are:
1. See the gift (non-verbally or verbally) in the request being made and value the request. For instance you can say, "I see that you want to go to the movies with me."
2. Never say the word "no" and try to avoid saying, "I don't want to." Instead share your feeling and need. For example, "I feel tired because I need rest."
3. End on a request that searches for a way that boths needs (yours and theirs) can be met. For example, "Would you be willing to go to the movies after I take a nap." This way the person knows what is keeping you from saying "yes" and gets a sense that their request is being valued and respected as well.
Even if you are not interested in meeting the needs of the other person you can still practice the first two steps. Say for instance you do not want to spend time with someone who has stirred up pain for you in your past, you can still value their request by repeating it back and then sharing why you are not willing to spend time with them. We can do this by sharing our feelings and needs. For instance we can say, "When you did what you did I felt deeply hurt because I needed respect and I currently need time to heal. Would you be willing to wait three months to call me?" or "Would you be willing to not call me anymore?"
If the person still persists then you can set a boundary. In this case it might mean not answering the phone when they call or changing the phone number. In a case where someone is harrassing another a restraining order can be sought.
The key to the three steps is honesty with others and giving explanations for why we are saying "no." It is good to remember that whenever someone says "no" they are really telling us that there is something that is preventing them from saying "yes." They are trying to tell us something ... that a need of theirs is not met. If we can be open to hearing that we can better navigate through the situation and decrease the change of having a conflict.
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