The Power of the Small No
by Lysa TerKeurst
I’ve learned there is power in the small no if only we’ll choose to use it. The power is in saying no before things grow to the place where a no becomes harder to give, more painful than if given early on, or so much is already put in motion that now the no feels nearly impossible to realistically implement.
As I talk with friends about this concept of the small no, there’s an interesting dynamic at play each time a small no should be given. Almost without exception it’s when the minute we receive a request, we know deep down our answer should be no.
But we delay—as if delay will somehow make this request go away so we don’t have to deal with it. But delay hardly ever makes a request go away. Quite the opposite. It does three things that are unfair to the people waiting for our answer:
- It builds their hopes that our answer will be a yes.
- It prevents them from making other plans.
- It makes an eventual no much harder to receive.
When we know we can’t do something, using the tactic of delay, unlike sugar, will not help things go down better.
I know it feels like either delaying your no or just saying yes and dealing with the consequences would be better than saying no. Boy, do I ever understand that dilemma. Most of us were raised to be nice. And somehow we’ve taken up the notion that saying no is not nice. But what if a small no can be given in such a way that it becomes a gift rather than a curse?
I work with an amazing friend named Glynnis. She’s the senior editor of content we publish through Proverbs 31 Ministries. Part of what makes her such a brilliant editor is being able to spot articles that are a great fit for our readers. She finds it thrilling to contact one of our writers and let them know they will be published.
But there’s a not-so-fun part of her job as well. For every article she agrees to publish, there are many more she has to decline. This is no fun. Writers pour their hearts, souls, and best efforts into stringing words and sentences together. They hold their breath as they hit Send and submit their work. And it’s so disheartening to do all that and get nothing but several sentences of rejection sent back.
I know that rejection hurts from all the years I tried and tried to get someone interested in my writing. Give me a chance. Just some kind of shot at getting published.
Glynnis knows it personally, too, which is what makes her heart so sensitive and wise when writing rejection letters. She’s made a personal commitment to be one of the best in the Christian publishing industry at writing e-mails declining the opportunity to publish someone.
She doesn’t just say the typical “Thanks, but no thanks.” She invests in them with her small no. Glynnis tells them how they can improve their writing. She gives them a gift alongside the no that has led to people thanking her for the investment she made in them. As I said before, small “no” answers are good so you can manage people’s disappointments and expectations. But they can also be investments if spoken so they benefit the one being told no.
We must not confuse the fact that saying no isn’t the same as being hurtful. The Bible reminds us that we shouldn’t “let any unwholesome talk come out of [our] mouths (or fly from our typing fingertips), but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” That’s from Ephesians 4:29, with my own little addition in parentheses for the sake of our social-media-driven world.
It is possible for a small no to do just that—build others up according to their needs. It is possible for a small no to benefit those who listen.
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