“No” is not a bad word. In fact, I believe that it is simply misunderstood. Often, it can be misconstrued as being “negative”. However, when used wisely and respectfully, “no” can become a powerfully positive communication tool.

  • “No” can allow us to respect ourselves, including our personal values, principles and standards. “No” can allow us to clarify and reaffirm our standards (i.e., the standards to which we hold both ourselves and others). Caring and respectful people will not invite us to step outside our integrity. On the other hand, people who seek to exploit us, may. We cannot control other people’s requests and demands. However, we are in control of our responses and decisions. Ultimately, we control whether we choose to accept or decline other people’s requests. We are allowed to say “no”; no permission required.
  • “Yes” shouldn’t be our default response. In the same manner, “no” shouldn’t become our default response either. Nevertheless, it should, at the very least, be an available option. When people make unreasonable requests, it is unreasonable to say “yes”. Therefore, in certain situations, “no” may be the most, or only reasonable response. When “yes” becomes our default response, we can find ourselves bound to people and situations that violate our personal values, standards and principles. As a first step, we can work to break our automatic “yes” pattern by replacing it with : “let me think about”. This allows us to take some time to think things through and consider important factors such as our schedule, our prior engagements, our current personal needs and available resources.
  • We have a limited amount of personal resources (e.g., energy, time, attentiveness, etc.). We are not inexhaustible wells. By saying “no” to certain requests or to people who seek to exploit us, we are left with more energy and resources for those around us who truly care for us and can reciprocate within our relationship. Saying “no” opens up more windows of opportunity to say “yes” to the people and the things that truly matter to us.
  • “No”, you cannot pour from an empty cup. Self-consideration and self-care are paramount to a healthy emotional and physical life. Sometimes, we can end up feeling guilty when saying “no” to someone’s request or demand. Yet, we often fail to consider that, by saying “no” to someone else, we are often simply saying “yes” to ourselves! “No” can therefore give us the opportunity to engage in self-care, replenish our energy reserves and therefore “refill our cup”.

Mélanie Léger 
Resident in Psychology