No is the Most Positive Word You Could Ever Say

Stephanie Sayegh
7 minutes

“My first instinct is always to say no.”

Simone Veil

When it comes to communication and relationships, we often focus on the power of positive language. We are encouraged to use phrases like “yes” and “I can” to convey a sense of optimism, availability and openness. Especially in my Yoga world, it is sometimes overwhelming to have to read or listen to so much YESSINESS because I don’t find it real. But what about the word “NO”? Despite its reputation as a negative word, “NO” can actually be one of the most positive words you can ever say. Those who know me personally, are aware that I can, indeed, use that negative word maybe more often than others. When it is not always the case, I am most of the time sincere and real. I have surprised people, when asking me my opinion and my answer was “NO”. I felt they were not expecting me answering that way at all. It landed probably as an unwanted response and was taken in a wrong way, negatively instead of seeing it as my perspective. Their body language was talking to me while they were lying with their own positive repartee. I was watching them uncomfortable in their freeze response or trying to hide an angry reaction, looking at me with the question “How can you just answer by NO?” 

NO is actually one of the first, if not THE first word pronounced by babies.  It is not to be taken as a negative answer from the toddler, they don’t have yet that notion of negativity. I believe that instinctively it is an affirmation of their good Ego, the Self, the “I”. Indeed, the infant is exposing his/her identity when expressing a “NO”. Sometimes they even laugh or giggle when saying it, like it is a paradox to express “NO” with the inner unconscious desire to expose their identity, almost ashamed to have said it. Actually often, a little kid doesn’t really know how to answer adult questions. They waver between saying YES and NO in their mind, because they don’t really understand if what they are asked is appropriate or not. When they start to understand that with a YES they can be loved more, then they might just switch to that in order to do well, to be the good kid. Then the teenager is having a better understanding of it, and react with NO, even though sometimes that could have been a YES. But NO becomes again a way of affirmation of the Self, an emancipation of the teenager from the authority. This time the meaning is strong and established with a deliberate intention of representation of an identity or even a mark of rebellion towards the elders. NO is standing between them and the society, creating a boundary to mark a territory. In the adulthood, NO can still be a protection when it is a short and fast answer that can be expressed, as a first, barrier, a border not to be crossed. We might say “NO” first and then think after, to maybe change our mind later after evaluation. The first reaction of “NO”, is an instinctive reply to allow some time: “wait a minute, let me think about your question!”  So, what “NO” represents exactly? At its core, “NO” is a boundary-setting word to point out respect. It allows us to establish limits and communicate our needs clearly. When we say “NO”, we’re asserting our autonomy and making it clear that our choices and preferences matter. This is particularly important in personal relationships. When we’re able to say “NO” to requests or situations that make us uncomfortable or dissatisfied, we’re prioritising our own well-being. We’re also modelling healthy communication for others, demonstrating that it’s okay to assert ourselves and set boundaries. It can also represent a very honest and raw answer, when we are asked for our opinion. And sometimes we are chosen from others to give that honest and raw answer in a situation where they had a doubt, and they would know that we would not try to rub them up in the right way. Saying “NO” can also be an act of self-care in the workplace. Many of us feel pressure to say “yes” to every request or assignment that comes our way, fearing that we’ll be seen as uncooperative or unwilling to go the extra mile. But in reality, saying “NO” can actually help us be more productive and effective in our jobs. By saying “NO” to tasks that are outside our areas of expertise or that we don’t have the bandwidth for, we’re able to focus on the work that we’re truly skilled at and passionate about. 

We can use “NO” as an opportunity to build trust and strengthen relationships. We need to be able to keep our integrity by knowing that we can say “NO”. Ultimately, saying “NO” is about respecting ourselves and the people we’re interacting with. It’s about acknowledging our own limitations and honouring the boundaries of others. And when we do it with intention and grace, “NO” can be the most positive word we ever say. It’s worth noting that saying “NO” doesn’t have to be a harsh or negative experience to say and also to receive. According to the background of the person or the situation, a “NO” can be expressed as an instinct reaction of protection but received as a powerful negative language. Just know that a “NO” has always a valid reason behind it. Never underestimate someone who says “NO” or taking it against you, because if YOU don’t understand why, the person, in the contrary, does. “NO” is actually a very quick and easy word to say, and also to understand. There is no ambiguity, and at times, it might be necessary to be direct. It is quite clear that when someone says “NO” it is not YES. It is short, sharp and with no misunderstanding “NO means NO”. It might be difficult to have to say “NO”, especially, to our kids, to our loved ones for their protection or ours. Meanwhile, we may have to say NO for their growth also and our integrity.

I believe the most difficult “NO” can be the one we tell ourselves, to stay away from some illusions. When the distractions of the mind are so tempting, and we may lose then our integrity. “NO”, then, is the protection to our own diversions too. NO is often taken for a rebel or outcast answer that needs to be tamed. But I want to say that revolutions haven’t been done by tamed people. Saying NO is a personal engagement and may be a great motor for CHANGE. Because when you do so, you question the present and prompt for the idea that there is maybe another way. When someone dare to answer “NO” to you, that might trigger a questioning, an opening, an inspiration for a new opportunity that you couldn’t imagine before.

And then, of course, saying “NO” seems so easy, 2 letters! Nevertheless, it is the affirmation of a great deal of personal engagement. Doubt can arise, “Who am I to say “NO”?” “How will people perceive me if I say NO?”. Because The Society and The Institutions desire more predictable and simple answers, and it is “yes”. 

“NO” is the most POSITIVE word you could ever say, because when you say “NO”, you actually say YES to Yourself, you say YES to opportunities, you say YES to unpredictable things to happen to the unknown, you give respect and space to your essence to blossom in its purest form: Raw Honesty. 

When I say “NO”, I actually say YES to ME. 

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