“Saying No with Compassion”

Most of us don’t want to hear the word ‘NO’ and when people disagree with us we find it difficult to accept and move forward. We don’t accept people can disagree with our position without having anything against our person thus separating the person from the action becomes impossible. We should be able to disagree respectfully, that is saying No with compassion and Understand when ‘No’ becomes a response to our request, needs or demands.  We shouldn’t always expect all our REQUESTS to be met. I don’t want this to be an academic presentation rather free simple discussion and sharing.

What Are Requests?

In the realm of compassionate thought and action, requests are the way we relate to others and to ourselves, to create change in our lives… to make life more wonderful.

For the purposes of this discussion, we are going to be very specific about the characteristics of a request.

A Request is Something We Can Hear “No” To

If we are going to live a more fulfilling life, we must be able to hear “no.” This can be really difficult if we have only one strategy. It can seem as though our need will never be met and panic or hopelessness sets in.

When our awareness is about our “need” NOT our “strategy” we can hear “no” without worrying that our need will not be met. Why? There are 10,000 ways to meet any need. That is the liberation of “need awareness.” When we’re stuck on one strategy, we only have two choices… do the strategy or not. And we all know what it’s like for someone to “have a plan for us” to do something… not a connecting experience. And we all know the pain of really wanting someone to do something they may not want to do… no fun either.

So hearing and accepting “no” allows us to live in a more wonderful world, where people do things because they want to. We can move in a world of “voluntary living.” Yes, this absolutely requires an awareness of needs. And if we believe we “need someone to…” we need more empathy to get into the awareness of our needs and 10,000 strategies.

Not easy… and yes, doable.

“Creating Life-Serving Boundaries”

When I first learned about requests, I got a bit confused, thinking that if I refused to do something, I was making a demand. In fact, I was creating a boundary. A boundary that you want to create or remove for someone else is a demand.

What Is a Boundary?

A boundary is a “no” based on what you are willing or not willing to do, based on an awareness of your needs. I remember some years back, I was starting to get into a heated discussion with a friend. At one point, it occurred to me that I needed some space to center myself, or the “discussion” was going to become a “fight.”

So I said, “You know,  I need to take a break here.” To this she replied, “That’s a demand! Because of you, now I can’t talk about this.” I was puzzled for a moment or two, questioning myself. Was I making a demand? Then it occurred to me, I was simply, setting a boundary.

The difference was, that I was not saying what my friend could or couldn’t do, I was only dealing with my own actions. This concept started to unravel an idea that I had carried with me most of my life. The idea that I was responsible to do something I really didn’t want to do, simply because someone else wanted me to.

So with tongue in cheek, and a new sense of self-direction and acceptance, I replied. “If you want to talk about it, go right ahead. I’m going for a walk.”

My point was clear. I’m in charge of me. And for that matter, only me. And if I’m going to do anything with anyone, I would really prefer that it’s because “I want to,” not because “I should.”

This turned out to be a benchmark in my integration of compassionate living. By taking care of myself in this way, I would now be the person I “wanted” to be as opposed to the person I “should be.” When I did things out of “should,” I almost always felt resentment and pain… and certainly, my heart wasn’t in it. It was disconnecting. Now that I do things because I “want to”, it maintains my sense of self-connection and that keeps me more able to be compassionate.

This idea grew in me and expanded to how I wanted to be in support of others as well. I realized, I didn’t want anyone to be doing things, if they didn’t want to do them. So creating and accepting boundaries, changed the quality of my life. Much like requests, it empowered me to live in a “voluntary world,” where people (including me) did what they did, from their hearts.

What Is a Demand?

A demand is when we want someone to do something, regardless of their wants and desires. The more I go through life, noticing this energy of “demand,” the more it occurs to me to be a “life-alienating” energy. So we should  be able to hear “no”, when we want to stay in connection. Likewise, I want to be able to say “no”, when I want to live a life of self-connection and self-expression. It is from this state of self-connection and self-expression, that I can be truly compassionate. Again, if I say “yes” when my heart is saying “no,” I will ultimately be resentful and disconnected.

So now I have learned to create boundaries. Not just for me, but for the world. To create a world where people act from their hearts.

How Do We Say No Compassionately?

Since my first aha moment back with My Friend, I have learned ways to say no that increase (not guarantee) the odds of a “connected no.”

So now, if I am in a similar situation, I’m more likely to say something like, “I’m noticing I’m feeling really frustrated and agitated, and I can imagine I’m going to talk to you in a way either one of us will like. I appreciate you very much and our connection is really important to me. So I’m going to take a walk and gather myself so we can really connect later.”

Notice, in the quote above, I didn’t ask. I explained. If I asked, I could be setting us up to do exactly what I don’t want…. So a clear, yet loving boundary is set.

“Scary Honesty” this is a way of creating a new level of connection.

What Is Scary Honesty?

It’s when we tell someone what is really alive in us, even though we are afraid of how they might react. You could say it’s a way of being “courageous” in our desire and actions, to create a deeper connection with someone.

This form of honesty may show up as an interruption or a question or a statement about something that is going on inside us. It is ALWAYS intended to create a deeper, more compassionate, more authentic relationship.

Have you ever been in a conversation where the other person is going on and on about something that you really don’t care about and kept listening anyway? Have you ever been in a conversation when someone has said something that offends your values and yet you kept quiet, letting it pass nonetheless? Have you ever said “yes” to someone because you were too uncomfortable to say “no” even though you really wanted to say “no”? Have you ever eaten something you didn’t like for fear of offending your host? Most of us have. And do you recall these experiences being connecting or disconnecting? I know for me they are often painfully disconnecting, particularly when it is with someone who I care about, or want to be close with.

In my experience, scary honesty often occurs when I’m conflicted, wanting ease and harmony and yet, also wanting to have shared understanding or connection and “aliveness”.

Scary honesty is a way for me to try for a more authentic interaction at the risk of some conflict.

How Do We Express Scary Honesty?

Scary honesty calls on us to be centered in ourselves and in our intention. Are we wanting to correct or connect? Are we intending our expression to bring us closer to the other person or is it to “be right”?

Are we self-connected enough to speak about ourselves, our feelings and needs, or are we thinking in terms of judgment about what “they” are doing or saying?

Scary honesty calls on us to “self-empathize” to the point where we understand that we ARE looking for connection and are clearly centered in our own feelings and needs… and we can speak from that place.

Scary honesty does not sound like, “When I hear you say, “those people,” it seems to me that you are being a bigot.”

It might sound like, “When I hear you say “those people,” I notice I have a reaction. I think my reaction is because of my value for seeing us all as basically the same, as a single human race. I’m conflicted about bringing this up because I don’t want to offend you. At the same time I value our connection and would love to have shared understanding. I’m wondering if you could tell me what you’re hearing me say.”

Scary honest does not sound like, “Sure, I’d love to go out tonight.”

It might sound like, “Wow, I’m really conflicted. I’ve been hoping you would ask me out and we could spend some time together. At the same time, I know I have to get up crazy early tomorrow morning and tonight just doesn’t make sense for me. Could we go another night?”

The whole point is that we can have a more connected experience when we can be more honest. When we DON’T share what is really going on for us, we can experience a distance or disconnection from others. When we DO share our true feelings and needs, it gives us the chance to live a more connected, compassionate life.

It’s an Option, Not a “Should”

Just because I can be completely honest and open with someone, that doesn’t mean I “should”. I like to know I have the option, the skill, to self-empathize and create a deeper connection, even if faced with the possibility of conflict, WHEN I WANT TO. It doesn’t mean I’m going to “work it out” with the bus driver, or the cashier. I do want the choice to work it out with my friend, or my father, or my friend. Being able to express scary honesty gives me that chance.

“Hearing No with Compassion”

“A No to Anything is a Yes to Something.”

Many of us hold beliefs about “no”. We think it means “I don’t matter”, or it means “You don’t love me”, or “I don’t deserve”.

Also, many of us have difficulty hearing “no” when we confuse our needs with our strategies (the way we try to meet our needs). We think that “no” to our “strategy” means “our needs cannot or will not be met”.

Compassionate thinking and living gives us a way to establish a new perspective and a new relationship with “no”.

How Can “No” Mean “Yes”?

Let’s think about that. “Everything we do, we do in an attempt to meet a need (or needs)… and everything anyone does is the same, an attempt to meet a need (or needs)”. This can be hard to remember, or even believe, when we are awash in disappointment over hearing a “no” when we were really hoping to hear a “yes”.

That said, we have the option (and hopefully the skill) to see “no” as an attempt to meet a need (or needs)… as a “yes” to needs, to life. For example, if my friend says, “Hey, do you want to go out to a movie tonight?” and I say “no,” what might I being saying “yes” to? Perhaps rest (if I’m tired), perhaps consideration (if I already have plans with someone else), perhaps self-care (if I am not feeling well).

If we look at any situation from this perspective, we can understand that anyone who is saying “no” is doing it to say “yes” to a need. This in turn, gives us a better chance to have “compassionate understanding”, to see that we are all simply trying to meet our needs.

When we are grounded in this awareness, we are more likely to understand that “no” DOES NOT mean “we don’t matter”, or “you don’t love me”, or “I don’t deserve”, it simply means that in order for someone to take care of themselves, they need to do something else.


Conversation I:

“The Sleep-over”

Some years ago, when my lecturer’s sons were in high school and he was starting to practice compassionate living and thinking, he had a conversation with his younger son Patrick that surprised and enlightened even him.

It was a Wednesday afternoon, and He was working in his home office when Patrick came in and said, “Dad, a bunch of us were thinking of sleeping over at Matt’s house tonight. Are you OK with that?”

His first reaction was closure and a touch of anger. His thought was, “No. When I was a kid, we never stayed over our friend’s house on a school night.” Then he thought a bit deeper, checking in with himself. Why was I feeling angry and closed? He realized it was because he figured that if Patrick stayed out, he wouldn’t get his homework done or get the rest he needed. This made perfect sense to him. He  replied, “Pat, I really don’t think that’s a good idea. I’m going to say no to this one.”

At this point in time, he has been studying with Marshall Rosenberg for some time and had shared and practiced much of what he learned. Apparently Patrick was paying attention.

Patrick: So Dad, I’m wondering why you think this is a bad idea.

Dad: Well, I’m afraid you’re not going to get your homework done, and as your father, I really want to encourage you to do well in school.

Patrick: I think I understand that. You might want to know that when we get together like this, we work together and encourage each other to do our work. It’s more fun and we end up doing an even better job.

Dad: Hmmm. Let me think about that. It sounds good, but something isn’t sitting right. I think I know. I’d really like to believe you, but it’s really a challenge.

Patrick: I get that Dad. How about this… When I get done, I’ll fax it to you. We can go over it together. This way you’ll know.

At this point He was almost off  his chair at how responsive and cooperative Patrick’s being. He was a bit confused… and really impressed. That said, something’s still gnawing at him –

Dad: You know, Pat, that all sounds really good. But when I check in with myself, something’s still bugging me… I know what it is. I’m still concerned that you won’t get enough sleep.

Patrick (with a big smile on his face): Oh Dad, you don’t have to worry about that! Matt’s mother is worse than you are. We will definitely be in bed by ten. I’m sure she’ll be happy to give you a call.

Patrick had stayed with him through the entire process. He walked him, step by step, from his concerns, beliefs and assessments to a place of connection and understanding, on many levels. It was a wonderful lesson for him, and a wonderful experience.

Dad: Have a great sleep-over. I’ll talk to you later.

Conversation II:

“Patrick and The Tattoo”

When Patrick was 17, he has been studying with Marshall Rosenberg for about two years. One Friday evening, Patrick approached him in the kitchen and informed him that he was headed to New York City to get a tattoo and he wanted his agreement. To this day, I’m amazed at what occurred in that dialog.

Dad: Absolutely not.

Patrick: OK Dad, but can we just talk this out a bit?

Dad: OK, but I don’t imagine anything is going to change.

Patrick: OK. First, could you explain what the difficulty is for you?

Dad: Well to start, tattoos are permanent. You may think it’s cool now, but what about in ten or twenty years?

Patrick: I get your concern, Dad. I’ve thought about that myself and that’s why I’ve decided to only use black ink. Black ink tattoos can be removed if I change my mind later.

Dad: Hmmmm. Yeah, but what about health issues. With the risks involved with needles carrying disease, I can’t even fathom doing that.

Patrick: No doubt, that’s a huge consideration. I spoke to my friend Ryan, who just got a tattoo, and he explained that tattoo parlors are licensed by the State… that they are required to use sealed, new needles, and they open them right in front of you. Believe me, Dad. I wouldn’t do this if it wasn’t safe.

Dad: Hmmmm. Yeah, but what about the impression you’ll make on people? Tattoos might give people the impression you’re not the kind of guy you are, that you’re a gang member or something.

Patrick: Well, Dad, no offense, but things are different these days from when you were a kid. Tattoos are much more acceptable. They just don’t have the same effect they did when you were young.

Me: Hmmmm. Well….. Hmmmm. Well…

His understanding was changing. His awareness shifted about his needs regarding Patrick’s well-being. Where before he thought his needs for shared understanding, contribution and peace of mind were going to be terribly unmet, in this new moment they were met. Before, I thought Patrick’s needs for safety, choice and being seen and understood were in jeopardy, now it occurred to me they were not. He didn’t compromise, He shifted. Pat has a tatt.

Last Line: Distinguishing “Observations” from “Judgments”

I can handle your telling me
What I did or didn’t do.
And I can handle your interpretations
But please don’t mix the two.
If you want to confuse any issue,
I can tell you how to do it:
Mix together what I do
With how you react to it.

Tell me you’re disappointed
With the unfinished chores you see,
But calling me “irresponsible”
Is no way to motivate me.

And tell me that you’re feeling hurt
When I say “no” to your advances,
But calling me a frigid man
Won’t increase your future chances.

Yes, I can handle your telling me
What I did or didn’t do,
And I can handle your interpretations,
But please don’t mix the two.

—Marshall Rosenberg,
Reference:                                                                                                                       Most of the ideas, points and Conversations are from My lecture notes (its either from the Compassionate Course, Non Violent Communication or Empathy)

Thus Marshall Rosenberg, Thom Bond and AVP International are acknowledged.