Resilience Tip - Resilience of "No"


Resilience is the ability to cope well with difficulties and to bounce back from setbacks.

While some people are naturally more resilient than others, resiliency can also be intentionally developed.

Resilience of “No”

The word NO has become quite negative in a world where we are increasingly urged to be positive. In this climate it seems we have become hesitant to use an important aspect of communication. Some feel increasingly guilty when they use the word NO. We may fear being perceived as inflexible, selfish, or poor listeners.

Merriam-Webster suggests that NO is used to express negation, dissent, denial, or refusal (among other definitions). For example: NO can mean, “I do not want that particular thing at this particular moment.” NO can mean, “I disagree with that opinion, or that plan of action”; and similarly, “I have an opinion or plan of action that I prefer”. NO can mean, “In this particular resource or situation that I control and/or have responsibility for, and that you would like some of this resource or like to see a change in this situation, I disagree with your perceived value in your request, and choose to exercise my control and/or responsibility and decline your request”.

While a bit wordy (purely for demonstration purposes!), is there anything wrong in the above communications, something for which we should feel guilty? I suggest not. Still, is there any harm in avoiding a potentially negative word? I suggest yes.

This avoiding can manifest as couching a message in more positive words. “I know you wanted to go out for Italian tonight, but I made reservations at a really great new sushi restaurant - isn’t that wonderful?!” Or we delay a clear answer in the hopes of avoiding NO, “We’ll see if we have time for the project, depending how other things work out.”  Or we try to avoid being negative with ourselves, “Just one more day, tomorrow I will create a real schedule and stick to it.” The harm in these types of avoidance is that we create frustrating and unclear communication (both in our interactions with others, and in our internal self-talk), and we tend toward low-resilient behaviors.

Having a problem-solving orientation, a characteristic of high-level resilience, necessarily means saying YES to one option and NO to other options. Who has been part of a failed execution plan as a result of decision-makers not fully committing to one particular choice, of being unwilling to say NO to alternative options? Not saying NO can create an absence of critical clarity, in organizations, between partners, and in parenting.

Two other high-level resilience characteristics are regulation of emotions and regulation of impulses, that is, the ability to distinguish between emotional reaction and behavioral response, and the ability to think through choices and consequences rather than acting on impulse. These abilities include a capacity to say an unequivocal NO to ourselves.

David Walsh, the author of “No, Why Kids – of All Ages – Need to Hear It” wrote: NO builds a foundation for self-discipline, self-respect and respect for others, integrity, perseverance, and a host of other character traits that lead to a happy, productive life.”

Of course there are countless examples of NO being used in damaging ways, through inappropriate domination, escalation, negative attitudes, double messages, and more. Part of acting resiliently is to recognize when the word NO creates positive results, such as instilling discipline, and establishing clear boundaries, communication, and decisions. The ability to use NO appropriately is an essential ingredient of high level resilience.


Carolyn S. Tal, PhD

Psychologist and Consultant - working with individuals, couples, and business partners

052-825-8585, ]]