The Moral Obligation of Accepting "No" for an Answer
Nobody likes being the “no” person, so stop making them repeat it.
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I’ve certainly devoted enough time on my Substack to talking about the importance of saying “no,” partly as an efficient means of saying “yes” to something else.
Like so many others, saying “no” has been something I’ve really struggled with, especially when I’ve had to turn down projects that seem interesting to me and things I know I’d be good at.
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But today, I want to talk about another super-important boundary—this time, it’s one to adhere to, not create. Let’s talk about the necessity to accept “no” for an answer. Because, as my wife sometimes has to remind me, “no” is a complete sentence.
Here’s something I’m not particularly proud of: When I was younger and was met with a “no,” I developed the bad habit of only seeing it from my perspective, focusing mostly on what I was losing in that exchange.
Though I consider myself a deeply empathic person, I’ve been in a position where my not getting what I wanted overrode the other person’s needs, and their reason for saying “no” in the first place.
But then, a funny thing happened. The more I started to respect my own needs (in particular, my own need to say “no”), the more I realized the imperative of saying “no” to others.
Because, as I said, nobody wants to be the “no” person. Including me.
Like, I really hate it. But mostly, I hate it when people keep pushing.
But since I’ve been the person who pushes, I can for sure offer a “pusher” compassion, right?
Look: I know from experience that being the yeah but what if person comes from a place of insecurity.
I’ll just go ahead and take it a step further and offer that it’s even possible that the yeah but what if person might have had a fucked up childhood where boundaries were not clearly taught, stated, or respected. (Just me?)
For those years when I was a pusher (a quality that concurrently carries some admirable aspects, such as the ability to succeed, to be a good salesperson, and to be noticed when it’s beneficial to be), it would have mortified me to think of the position I was putting the “no” person in.
Maybe that’s why I didn’t really think about it very much.
People who say “no” do not always have an easy time with it (I should know!). In most situations, it’s downright unkind to push them.
Here’s a tip for you: If someone’s “no” means they aren’t able to meet your needs, then that should be information for you. It will also give you the opportunity to get your needs met in a different way—an experience that in and of itself can create a lot of self-growth … if you decide to rise to the occasion.
That’s what happened for me. In my younger, more relentless days, I was lucky enough to have a couple of people level with me—gently reminding me that they really don’t want to be the person who has to say “no” over and over. That was very kind of them; many people would have just disappeared out of my life, because who wants to lay that kind of boundary down?
The point is, respecting boundaries is a multifaceted thing. Yes, it’s important to learn when to say no to things (and people) that no longer serve you … but that is the more straightforward part. Let’s take that a step further and respect those who have done the inner-work to say the most important word in the English language:
Say it with. me: No.
Know what I mean?
"Say it with. me: No.
Know what I mean?"