One of my favorite Nonviolent Communication (NVC) practices and workshops is the one called “How to say no!” The first point is to not use the word “no”; rather, to let the other person know what you are saying “yes” to. And if I am practicing NVC, as the listener, I will put on my NVC ears and hear what they are saying yes to!
I was reflecting on this with my friend Sharon in Ein Kerem this morning. Sharon and I, along with some other friends, are organizing the first NVC practice group for Israelis and Palestinians together, this evening, in Jerusalem. We are wondering who is coming.
I have noticed in my travels in the Middle East and Asia that in some cultures it seems less “polite” to say no to an invitation than to let the person know you are not able to attend. Looking at this now, in the Middle East, I see such a profound beauty in this, and have an insight into why the NVC practice of not saying “no” resonates so deeply in my soul.
When I invite someone to do something with me, it is painful to hear them say “no” to my invitation. And usually, I don’t want to be saying “no” to the invitation – what I usually want to say is “yes” to the invitation – to the inclusion, the friendship, the celebration, and then let them know that I am not available to attend. So, as in other cultures, it truly is saying “yes” to the invitation – to the reaching out toward me, to the connection, to the request for connection, to their request for friendship, partnership, sharing. There is not a “no” to that.
So here in the Middle East, when I invite someone to something and they say yes, and don’t show up, I can now appreciate that the “yes” was to the connection, to the request for friendship; and the not showing up was the way of communicating that they were unable to attend for many reasons of their choice.
And I’d like to explore how to really abide in this awareness and also meet some of my other needs. Bringing another NVC practice into this, would be my request for sharing with the other person – the needs you’d be meeting by not showing up. This meets my needs, if i am the one extending the invitation, or declining to attend, for clarity, connection, respect, consideration…
So the model might be to say something like, thank you – I love the invitation; I value our connection; or I value the generosity of spirit, and I am touched by the longing in your heart for connection…and I realize now that I am so tired at the end of the day and my family feels such frustration and anxiety when I go out at night…….so I’m going to choose to stay home…even with sadness in my heart to not be with you.
Wow! I don’t hear a “no” there – I hear a yes to the invitation and a yes to their own needs. A world where everyone’s needs are being met…a world that brings together the values that are expressed in different cultures.