No: The Most Powerful Little Word

No: A negative response to a request or declaration. 

I recall a few years ago talking with a high-level executive with a current Fortune 500 Company. To be accurate, this company is currently within the Fortune 50. He said something within a sales context that resonated with me. “No is a powerful word.” By this, he meant that from a sales and business perspective, no was a detriment to progress. No meant that the wishes of a client would not, or could not, be met. No closed doors to profit. In this context, he was partially right, in that all of the above-mentioned scenarios in which the term no would be used would have a negative impact on business. But there was a larger context to what my friend and colleague was saying here, and it has led to an awakening to an awful situation within our society. 

As consumers, we do not like to be told no. In essence, the word no is seen as a zero-sum game. In other words, borrowing from Game Theory, the gains of a business are exactly balanced by the gains of a consumer. This also applies to the possibility of losses that also may be equally shared. From a profit and less statement therefore, it makes perfect sense that the avoidance of no in business discourse in lieu of more yes responses would be advantageous to both parties. When a retailer says yes to the demands and wishes of a customer more often, then it stands to reason that both parties will enjoy the fruits of this advantageous discourse. But is this realistic in terms of the larger context that is life in a complex society? Is the pursuit of profit in the business and consumer world causing interpersonal cancer in the social sphere? 

We can go to a restaurant and order our favorite burger exactly as we want it. I’ll admit it; I do it quite often, and I enjoy it. There is nothing wrong with entering into a transaction and paying a fair price for a meal, or any service, and having your wishes fulfilled. Life would be pretty boring otherwise, I’m sure we would all agree. But I proclaim that the consumeristic nature of American society that tells us we can have it “Our way, right away” is sending shockwaves through our society in terms of how we do business, treat our neighbors, and develop expectations as to how the world should exist. 

The truth is, you don’t get everything in life that you want, nor should you. One would hope that beyond infancy, the screams and cries that demand Mother’s Milk would be replaced with a more rational view of the world, its ups and downs, and the reality that life sometimes does not give you what you want, when you want it, and how you want it. Sadly, this is not the case.

Nature cannot exist without opposites. Every concept must have an opposing concept in order for it to be defined. Without a man, we cannot determine the physical, emotional, and social nature of the woman. We cannot define darkness without understanding the concept of light. We currently live in a society in which the line between rich and poor is very defined, yet the two still exist. The same holds true for yes and no. We cannot understand the positive nature of yes without also understanding the presence and reality of the negative nature of the word no. By believing that we are entitled to being told yes and receiving everything we think we deserve with no impediments, we are denying the natural basis of the world. I blame this on the consumeristic foundation of modern society. It has thrown the moral and social balance of life in a civilized society into chaos. 

No is seen as a negative response. But I would ask you to think back over the course of your life and recall those times that you were told no and denied a request. The sting of the rejection at first was difficult to accept. But over time, did this rejection not lead to bigger and better things? The beautiful girl you dated in college that chose to chase her drams instead of sharing life with you led you inadvertently to your wife, children, and the home you now cherish. The overlooking of your skills by an employer led you to the job you are at now. No eventually leads to yes. No is a building block to multiple areas of life.

No builds character. It teaches you to understand that there are things in this world that are bigger than you. In the big scheme of things from a historical and physical perspective, the individual human is a grain of sand on the beach of time. As stated, sometimes the ball doesn’t bounce our way. The no in your life can be seen as a muscle building exercise. It may hurt temporarily, but the muscle that is your character is being built and defined by that period of your life in which no was the weight. This weight, perhaps unknowingly, was adding mass to the muscle of your character. 

No breeds humility. If you stop and think about it, there is an inherent risk in asking any question in which you hope that deep seated desire will be met. That beautiful girl in chemistry class during your freshman year of college may easily reject your offer of dinner. Your polished CV may be rejected for someone that is a better fit for a position in an up and coming company. By being told no, we learn that others have agency just like we do. They have control over their lives and their organizations. No is the gatekeeper that decides who is allowed into their intimate sphere of existence. By being told no, you have learned a valuable lesson, which is that you may not be the perfect fit for someone else. It is a lesson in humility.

No sets boundaries. This is a very important delineation in the use of words yes and no. As a self-protection coach, I admonish my clients that in cases of courtship and relationships, “no means no” is more than a moniker. It is a boundary by which the emotions and physical sanctity of another human being shall be protected. We have explored how living in a consumeristic society has led us to believe that our wishes must be granted. In this case, we see how absurd this idea is in reality. Only the basest of savages would believe that they have the right to be told yes in every sexual or romantic conquest that they seek. It is my hope that the danger associated with always being told yes can be understood as to how it can invade the psyche of another person who is not accustomed to being rejected. Prisons are full of such people that destroyed the lives of women simply because she attempted to create a boundary with the word no. 

As a martial arts teacher, I have often had to tell a student no in regard to grade advancements or requests to learn certain techniques. I do not tell a student no simply to tell them no. I tell them no because I have traveled along this path just as they have, and like them I have been told no. I tell them no because there is something I may see in their technique, their study practices, or their character that precludes them from advancement. In this case, no is not negative. Rather, it is a building block towards the future.

My friend and colleague was right: No is a powerful word. Its power should be respected. Likewise, the possible lessons to be learned from being told no should be embraced. 

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-PhDCE

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