Surviving ‘No’

Those two little letters can utterly ruin your day. Or even your life. But there’s one catch – that’s only if you let them!


If you say it doesn’t bother you when someone tells you no, then you’re lying. Either to yourself or to us – plain and simple! As humans, we can’t help but hold opinions about pretty much everything, including what the answer ‘should’ be to any question we ask. It’s usually because we’ve thought through the situation (to an extent) and we need outside input to proceed. If the feedback is a proverbial smack down, it’s going to sting. Unless, of course, you happen to be a psychopath…

There are other ways to receive rejection, but they don’t smart quite so much. For example, when you offer up two restaurant options to your friend and their answer is not your favourite. It isn’t what you wanted, but at the same time, it probably doesn’t feel like a kick in the teeth. Or when you invite someone to have drinks with you and your crew and their response is along the lines of “not this time.” Still a form of no, but it doesn’t elicit the same visceral ouch.

The severity of the ego injury depends on any number of things: the person, the question, who’s on the other side of the equation, what the stakes are, etc. There may very well be a waitress out there somewhere who takes it personally when a customer says no to a drink refill, but somehow I doubt they would last long in their job. Or in other words, a no to “Did you like the new Star Wars movie?” is not the same as a no to “Will you marry me?” Well, for most people.

I’ve heard no much more frequently than I like this past week, in a number of different arenas in my life, which is what prompted this post. I found myself stewing about a couple of them on the drive home and had to consciously reign my pity party back in. That is the first step in the process – recognizing the no has bothered you. A frustration unidentified is a frustration which festers. Unfortunately, simply realizing it is usually not enough. Otherwise, my desire to sing loudly to rock anthems and curse at other drivers would have evaporated right then and there.

There are as many avenues to overcome a no as there are ways to say it in the first place, so I can’t offer you a guaranteed solution. However, in my experience, one of the best approaches to survive the hard pass is to reframe what it means. You know what it means to you, which is exactly why it hurts to hear it! But you can look at it from a number of different angles which will lessen the impact.

  • Don’t extrapolate! If the question was “Will you represent me and my manuscript?”, then don’t turn it into “Is my work any good at all and will anyone ever want to be my agent?” It wasn’t what you asked, so don’t go charging off and apply the no to a completely different line of questioning.
  • Don’t make it personal when it isn’t! I’m in the process of building a new business within a network marketing structure, and in order to do so, you need to ask people if they want to hop on board, too. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve heard the two-letter devil in the past month! Sure, it’s personal to you because it’s something you believe in and you’re the one offering, but they’re saying no to the opportunity, not to you as a human being. Those things aren’t inseperable, so don’t think about them as if they are.
  • Don’t make the no about you! There are times when it doesn’t even have anything to do with what you ask. Hear me out on this, the explanation makes sense in my head… For example, we got into a tight spot in surgery this week and I felt I made a valuable contribution to the solution. When I asked the surgeon about it, they dismissed my efforts. I know enough about my job to know I’d made a difference, so why would they say that? It then dawned on me that they said no because they didn’t want to admit to themselves the thing I fixed was A) avoidable, B) caused by them, and C) identified by me. The no ultimately had nothing to do with my question and everything to do with what they needed to tell themselves.

The above examples are just a few ways to analyze the context in which your no is received. When you return to the core of the query and break down the various elements into identifiable, contributing parts, you will usually be able to alleviate the burn. Yes, when we care, it’s an extremely difficult response to hear. But don’t give that tiny, single-syllable word the power to destroy you. Take it for exactly what it is, no more.

Don’t let the N-O get you down.

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