NVC Practice

How to Say “No” When You Care!

Sarah Sims Williams shares how NVC supports her in saying no with care.

Do you find it difficult to say “no” to a request from someone you care for?

Saying no can be hard for me, I sometimes say yes to a loved one’s request of me, at a cost to myself!

Why might I say “yes” and ignore my needs? Maybe…

  • I am scared of their reaction – their disappointment, anger, words of criticism etc
  • I am scared of losing their love, approval, or our connection
  • I will feel bad about myself or guilty if I say “no”
  • I am not aware of my own needs clearly enough – “their request seems simple, easy…”
  • I want them to know I really care! I find it harder to show that if I say “no”
  • I am not counting my needs as equally important as theirs!

Do you sometimes say yes when you would prefer to say no?!

One thing I love about NVC is that it encourages me to take my needs seriously and to be compassionate to myself too. So in this situation I want to check I am saying yes from an open hearted place, rather than a fearful (or wanting to please) place, and that I am resourced enough.

The more I learn to check in with what my needs are before saying yes to another, the easier it is to say no when I want to. Furthermore, when I say no I am still saying yes – to some needs of my own.

I also recognise that when I hear “no” from someone, they are saying yes to their own needs – hearing which needs stops me taking it personally or helps me to connect!

Can “no” can become “yes” without compromising?

To make this clearer, let me give you a simple example:

Emily asks John to come on a picnic tomorrow. John says “No, sorry I am busy”.

Maybe Emily feels upset, she may even imagine that John doesn’t like her or care for her.

If instead John says “No, I would like to, and I need to get my house in order so I feel relaxed for the week ahead” (stating his needs) two things may be more likely to happen:

  1. Emily can connect to what is going on for John, know it is nothing to do with her and be pleased he is taking care of himself.
  2. If John has expressed what would help him to go, Emily can offer to contribute to meeting those needs. Receiving her offer, John can check if he now has a “yes” without compromising, or more unmet needs. The dialogue that takes them to that place means “no” isn’t always the end!

Because everything we do is to meet needs, John’s “no” is a “yes plus his unmet needs”. And if ALL those needs can be met, his “no” is transformed into a “yes”. How great is that!

How can I stay in connection with the other person if I say “no”?

These are some of the things I like to include when saying no:

  • Express gratitude that they have asked me
  • Let them know that I would love to contribute to their needs because they are important to me.
  • Explain what important needs I am attending to of mine, instead of theirs
  • Empathise with them.

If I face my fear and am compassionate to myself, it is much easier to say “No” when I want to.

Many times when I have done this I found that my fear dissipated when i responded empathically to the other’s response; acknowledging their needs and feelings rather than giving in. Then, amazingly, they no longer needed a “yes”. Furthermore the connection was strengthened even though I said “no”! That’s much better than if I bend over backwards saying yes to keep the connection!

And if my needs could be met somehow, I may find it easy to change from “no” to “yes” and not compromise (if I don’t want to, then there must be another unmet need that is in the way).

Hearing a “No”

Sometimes others will say they are busy and not want to go into any details. I may believe they don’t care or don’t want to be with me. NVC shows me how to give myself compassion by listening to my own feelings and needs or to guess what need they are saying yes to.

Why am I so interested in No, when most people write about saying yes to life? It’s because I am passionate about all of us empowering ourselves! I recognise that to say yes, without checking that my needs are also considered, has had a detrimental effect on my life and I want to change this for myself and others.

When you last said “yes” but prefered to say “no” – were there some needs of yours that would have been met by saying “no”?

Can you imagine what you might have asked for, so you could have said “yes” without giving up on your needs?

What stopped you saying “no” in that example?

When we practice NVC our aim is to connect by reflecting deeply on our own needs and aiming to understand others”. This way we look at both people’s needs and stay compassionate to all those needs. Both parties knowing their needs matter makes all the difference when it comes to friendships!

Sarah Sims Williams lives in West Wales. Her NVC journey started in about 2009 and she is now a CNVC Certification Candidate. She runs a practice group every fortnight, and one day a month she offers a day of NVC Consciousness. She also enjoys training people and supporting individuals and couples privately. Her fb page is called Escape Your Chains, and her website is www.escapeyourchains.co.uk

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3 thoughts on “How to Say “No” When You Care!”

  1. I just read your article https://nvc-uk.com/say-no-care/. I found it very useful. Especially, the part about; how to stay connect with the person when you hear a NO. It helped me better understand what is going on in us when we hear the word no. Thank you!

    I’m currently working on a program for nonviolent communication that I’ll use to help people recovery from gambling problems. I believe NVC can help them deal with a lot of pain they feel.

    Hearing No, can be painful, if we take it as a rejection (which I think most people do), so one module in the program will be how to say no, and how to receive a no. Thank you for an inspirational article again!

    Keep up the good work! (yes, it was a judgement 😉 )

    Cheers, Anders

  2. Hi Anders,

    I am really glad you enjoyed reading it! Thanks for taking the time to let me know.

    I am delighted that you have learned more about how to stay connected when someone says no. That it isn’t the end.

    Yes, receiving No, especially when it has taken a lot of courage to ask, or especially when I feel desperate, can be uncomfortable – devastating or painful sometimes – for me!

    It sounds wonderful that you are going to help people find a way to meet their needs that doesn’t include gambling. Let me know if I can be of any more help.

    warmly, Sarah

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