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The Power of "NO"

I’m a ‘Yes, and…’-kind of person. If you come to me with a good idea, I’ll probably have said ‘Yes’ before you have finished the end of your sentence. I love trying new things, it’s so much fun! So you can imagine I get a bit itchy around ‘Yes, but…’-kind of people. They’re the ones trying to rain on my parade. Although, if I’m being honest, those annoying ‘Yes, but…’-questions my partner tends to throw my way when I come up with yet another amazing plan to bring life to the party are usually quite helpful. They help me rethink why it’s such a good idea in the first place and how I can best go about executing that wonderful plan of mine. So, I must admit that, in moderation and coming from the right person, a ‘Yes, but….’-frame of mind is not always such a bad thing… not always…

But if ‘Yes, but…’ makes me itchy, I’m absolutely struggling with the word ‘No’. ‘No’ is such a negative word. As a Facilitator, I’m all about creating a positive atmosphere and doing my best to support people based on a servant leadership mindset. Saying ‘No’ feels like I’m turning people down. So I try to avoid saying ‘No’ as much as possible but, lately, I’ve come to realise that although I love saying ‘Yes’, sometimes what I really need is to say ‘No’. I don’t claim to be original, there’s actually more than one book with the exact same title out there, but the Power of No is something that’s been on my mind the last couple of weeks and I thought I’d share what I learned in this blog.

I’ve said ‘No’ to quite a few things the last couple of months. For instance, I’ve said ‘No’ to the #Play14 Amsterdam Organisation, 'No' to a great fulltime job opportunity and I’ve said ‘No’ to renewing my contract at ABN AMRO. The biggest and most heartfelt NO! of all was saying ‘No’ to getting married.

‘For real, Nancy?’

‘Yes, for real!’

Both me and Paul, my partner, couldn’t be happier. We will definitely NOT be getting married on 18 March and we are so happy about it that we’re actually planning to throw a party to celebrate saying ‘No’. Because saying ‘No’ to getting married allowed us to say ‘Yes’ to committing to each other and buying a house together with all the administrative hassle that comes with it, such as a registered partnership.

What all these NOS have in common is that they were dead scary and I was afraid of turning people down but they opened room for other YESSES. They made me realise that saying ‘No’ is actually very positive and healthy for me because it helps me focus on making better choices. It turns out that saying ‘No’ creates space to clear my head in order to make better plans or find better solutions. Saying ‘No’ doesn’t necessarily mean I have to cancel a plan altogether either. It simply gives me room to rethink the plan allowing me to say ‘Yes’ to the bits that work and letting go of the bits that don’t. In our case, Paul and I are very happy with the idea of growing old together but the institute of marriage and all that comes with it just isn’t for us. Saying ‘No’ to marriage allowed us to discuss what would make us happy and I’m so very glad we did.

What I learned is that saying ‘No’ is the most important word when it comes to self-care. Saying ‘No’ to something also means having to think about why you’re saying ‘No’ in the first place. It forced me to be honest with myself so I can take better care of myself. I realised that it helps me set the boundaries I need to be able to figure out what I want in the first place. It creates room for other ideas and self-exploration. I realised that learning to say ‘No’ to each and every plan or opportunity that comes along will actually allow me to commit to saying ‘Yes’ to those things that truly inspire me and will take me to the next level business wise and in my personal life.

I also realised that me saying ‘No’ to something isn’t only good for me but quite often it can be good for others too. As I said before, as a Facilitator I work to support other people and saying ‘Yes’ feels very supportive, doesn’t it? But I realised that sometimes that YES isn’t the support people need. Saying ‘No’ will allow me to ask better questions so I can assess the situation better. Saying ‘No’ can also be used to help people figure out what they really want. And hardest of all, but true nonetheless, sometimes it’s better to say ‘No, I can’t help you’ and help them to find someone better suited to helping them trying to figure things out because although I’d like to think of myself as a superwoman sometimes I’m just not the right person for the job.

The only thing is, even though I now realise that saying ‘No’ can be very empowering, I still find it very difficult to actually say ‘No’ to people. What if they get upset or angry with me? I’d hate that!! And why exactly is it better for me to say ‘No’ to having dinner with friends when I’m busy working on a deadline? The diner will be fun! I found this really inspiring article by William Leith that helped me understand just why saying ‘No’ is so difficult. I guess I’ll just have to tough it out as it’ll take some practice. So for now, I’m taking baby steps while trying very hard to push past that negative barrier and say ‘No’ more often.

Oh, and talking about baby steps, if you’re still have trouble figuring out how to say ‘No’, just find yourself a couple of two-year olds playing somewhere and observe them for a while. They are the absolute masters when it comes to saying ‘No’, as any parent will be able tell you.

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