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The Polite “NO”

The Polite “NO”




It sounds mean, almost like personal attack when you hear it. With Amazon, Netflix, and UBER we have become so accustomed to getting exactly what we want immediately that we’ve lost the ability to say ‘No’ and we’ve forgotten the value of using the word.


My 3 year old son is just tall enough to reach into our craft drawer. Recently he he had helped himself to this drawer, reaching in and pulling out a large pair of scissors.

When he approached me, with all the arrogance of someone that is rarely denied anything he said “Daddy, I am going to cut some paper.” He said it so matter of factly it made me jerk my head back. “No you are not.” I calmly responded. “Yes.” he rebuttals. “No.” I counter, now a bit firmer. “Yes.” his frustration is now quite apparent. “No.” “YES!!” It was somewhere around the 6th back and forth that I realized my mistake. While my “No” was derived from a loving, protective place he saw it as combative. This is when I began to understand the value of a polite no.


“No, you may not cut paper right now. You are not allowed to use scissors without asking mommy or daddy first. You could get hurt and need a bandaid. Do not pick up scissors without asking us first. Do you understand?” To my surprise he responded “Ok, daddy.” set down the scissors and moved on to some less dangerous activity.


During my many years in the corporate world I received all sorts of no’s. What I can tell you is that the flat, direct NO always felt like aggression, while the NO accompanied by an explanation always felt like an opportunity to learn.


Often people do not feel inclined to explain themselves. They say no and move on. But ask yourself this question: How do you feel when someone gives you a firm NO without any explanation or reason? If you are like me you feel a bit dejected and mad.


What I suggest is that we use the polite NO. If we do it will strengthen our relationships and deepen our communication. Stop using the singular word NO and start seeking to inform and connect with other humans.

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