ARTICLE: Asking for what you want means being able to hear “No.” Here’s how I became more comfortable with that…

If you ask for things in life there’s a risk that you’ll hear “No.” If you ask someone out on a date, if you apply for a job, if you apply for a place in an apartment, or ask for a pay rise, there’s a risk that the other person will say “No.” And there are many seemingly small interactions in every day life – with your partner, family members, co-workers etc. – where they may have a “No” for you some of the time.

Now if you’re anything like me you’re not particularly fond of “No”s.  Perhaps they’re not the most enjoyable answer you could receive. I like the idea that if you are making a request then you’re actually just finding out whether the answer is “Yes” or “No” – so that you have clarity and can move forward accordingly. However, If you’re making a demand you’re only really interested in hearing “Yes” – you’ve already made your mind up about what must happen. Either way the answer might come back “No” of course, but even if you’re very consciously making a request not a demand, it still might be quite disappointing to hear a “No.”

As I know only too well, you can avoid “No” in your life to a large extent by emphasizing self-reliance so that you rarely ask anyone for anything. This can be a lonely way forward though, if you avoid asking for dates, touch, friendship and so on. Or perhaps you might continue to do a job where you don’t have a sense of doing meaningful work, or having the autonomy or income you want – but you don’t ask for anything to change, for fear of hearing “No.”

So, clearly, fear of “No” can be limiting, or even paralyzing. This is something that’s very familiar to me. I consider myself a late bloomer in the realm of making requests to meet my needs. I know more about how to do it, since becoming a practitioner of Connected Communication (aka Nonviolent Communication), but that doesn’t mean I suddenly started making requests. The fear of “No” was still too large.

Nonetheless, I want to live a life where I’m moving with the flow of life as I experience it. This flow can be described in the language of needs – what needs are arising from one moment to the next, in me and in the other people around me in my life. How can I contribute to those needs being met? What can I offer and what can I request?

If I’m judging myself as a “late bloomer,” all that means is that I wish I’d learned the a different relationship to “No” 20 years ago or more…but here we are, and I’m glad I’ve discovered it now.

So what is it, this discovery? Well, if it’s uncomfortable to receive a “No,” and feeling comfortable is something I enjoy, then it might help if I can find comfort no matter whether I get a “Yes” or a “No.” This comfort has been available to me for years in the form of empathy, focused listening from someone who knows how to listen without judging, ridiculing, giving unrequested advice and so on. A person like this provides a safety net, a soft place to land regardless of whether the woman I asked on a date said “Yes” or “No,” regardless of whether I got the job I wanted etc.

I can receive this kind of listening from people in the Communication Dojo community, and the Nonviolent Communication community at large, and from friends who’ve figured out for themselves the value of listening in this way, or others who learned as part of their professional training.

So here’s the recipe I use. If I’m nervous about asking for something, I get empathy from someone about that. They can hear me out; I can “get it off my chest” -  whatever I am I fearful about, or hopeful about. Then, once I’ve made my request, I can get more empathy about what happened, especially if it was a “No.” Another human being can hear if it was embarrassing, or painful, or if I went into self-judgment, or judgment of the person who said “No”; if I’m disappointed; if my head is spinning and my body reeling with “rejection” and the associated feelings with that experience.

A coach or therapist can provide the same kind of support. Empathy for where you are, and support in taking the next steps towards whatever you’re moved to bring into your life. If this avenue resulted in a “No,” what’s the next avenue to try?

If you don’t have this kind of empathic network in your social circle, come join us at the Communication Dojo and start to build it, or search for Nonviolent Communication in your area. And if you do have this kind of empathic network, make a plan now to ask for something you’ve been scared to ask for. Get empathy before and after.  This is an adventure that does not require special equipment!

I’d love to hear how it goes. You can reach me at

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