Learning to Hear “No.”
Updated: Jun 29
Most of us have a hard time hearing “No”. It often feels like rejection, or even as an indictment of the very core of who we are. We are usually too lost in the feelings of insecurity that a “No” brings up in us, to understand that the person who just said “No” probably struggled to say something uncomfortable in order to give us important information about how they feel. There are a lot of books and courses out there to teach people how to get better at having boundaries and saying “No”, but what about getting better at hearing it?
When I was young in the 70’s and 80’s, refusing to take no for an answer or pushing through resistance was normalized as the route to success, whether in business or relationships. Just like most of my peers, I had a hard time saying “No” and an even harder time hearing it. I bought into the notion that convincing someone who had told me “No” to change their minds was an admirable skill. The movies at the time were full of messaging that a “No” was an invitation to try harder or be more aggressive, and that that aggression would be rewarded. Even in more recent movies, behaviour that would actually garner a restraining order is presented as a valid way to pursue a love interest.
It’s been a lifetime since then, and as a culture we’ve moved from “No means Yes” to “No means No” to “Yes means Yes” to “Only an enthusiastic Yes is a Yes”. My co-author and I want people to move beyond the permissive model of consent to one of consent as a collaboration, or “How do we want to play together?” In this model, everyone asks for what they want, everyone’s wants and needs have equal weight, and everyone collaborates to find the most mutually agreeable way to interact. In this model we all actively work to make those around us feel more comfortable to authentically express their boundaries. That means appreciating those “No’s“ that come our way.
If you want to blow the mind of someone in your life, the next time they say “No” to a suggestion or request of yours, thank them. You could thank them for being clear about what they want, or for honestly communicating their boundaries, or just for letting you know how they really feel. Just watch how they react when they are appreciated for doing something that can often end in an argument or even retaliation.
In our upcoming book Creating Consent Culture: A Handbook For Educators, Marcia Baczynski and I offer up a series of exercises designed for kids aged 10 and up which teach skills for saying and hearing “No” and ways to practice those skills until they are second nature. By getting better at hearing “No” we can create a safer space for everyone around us to express their boundaries. In fact, men who have learned these skills often express joy at having more tools to make those around them feel more comfortable. Consent Culture is something we all need to create together.
To find out more about these exercises, the workshop, or the book, come learn more at my website, www.creatingconsentculture.com.
Order the book here!