This morning I was talking to a client about how important it is to be able to say ‘no’. There’s the obvious stuff about boundaries and how we need to be able to say ‘no’ in order to protect ourselves against potential harm. It’s analogous to the pain reaction you’d have if you put your hand on a hot stove. Without boundaries and the ability to act on them by saying no, we could get badly burned.
But we were talking about something different this morning. We were talking about how you need to be confident in your ability to say ‘no’ in order to be able to say ‘yes’ wholeheartedly. I’m sure you know how it is when someone agrees to something but then makes it clear in indirect ways that he or she really wanted to say ‘no.’ It might be passive-aggressive behavior, a pouty mood, withdrawal. The ‘no’ just has a way of seeping out no matter what.
On the other hand, if we feel free to say “no”, our “yes” is uncontaminated. Personally, people who are able to say both “yes” and “no” in this wholehearted way seem more trustworthy to me. If you ask your friend to feed your cat while you’re out of town, it would feel a lot better if you absolutely knew that she would say no if she chose to. And if she said yes, she meant yes.There would be no need to waste energy wondering how she really felt.
Any meaningful relationship should be able to accommodate ‘no’ as an answer sometimes, even if that results in disappointment or worse. What you get in return is the ability to relax with confidence that when the answer is ‘yes’, it’s really ‘yes’.