My parrot, Pearl, picks up the green thing and drops it into the sink….a clear “no” in any language!

“No” is not my favorite word. This includes when I am hearing “no” and also when I am saying “no.”

Sometimes this results in me saying “yes” when I should be saying “no.”

It’s such a small word – only one syllable and two letters – and yet apparently size doesn’t matter when it comes to the power of a word.

In fact, I suspect if this word wanted to, it could bring down Arnold Schwarzenegger in a single round….even with one of its letters tied behind its back.

Several years ago, I was awarded a scholarship to attend an intensive workshop on the west coast. The agenda was a mystery and attendees had to just accept that (we were also asked, based on the honor system, not to disclose what we learned so as not to spoil it for other first-timers, which is why I’m not telling you who the leader was or what the workshop was called!).

As it turned out, it was a good thing they didn’t tell me in advance what we would be doing during those 9 days, because one of the first sessions focused on the basic mechanics of effectively saying “no,” which happened to be a particular phobia of mine.

The workshop attendees ranged in age from their early 20’s to 70+. Looking back, I think it is safe to say not a single one of us, age or life experience notwithstanding, sailed through this exercise. Not only were we tasked with learning to say “no” with confidence, consistency and conclusiveness, but we were banned from adding anything to our “no.”

In other words, we couldn’t say things like: “oh no thank you,” “thank you, but no,” “no, I don’t think so,” “not right now but ask me again later,” “oh I’m afraid I can’t but thanks so much for asking,” “I’m sorry, but I have to say no at the moment….”

We could only use one word in our response (guess what that word was)….

Judging from the participant sharing following this session, I wasn’t the only one who found sticking to a simple “no” nearly impossible. We felt compelled to butter it up somehow….to let the other person down softly…..to leave the door open, EVEN if we felt really strongly that we wanted to keep it closed and LOCKED.

This experience taught me a ton about my own integrity.

One of my favorite mentors, Don Miguel Ruiz, offers four agreements to base your life around. The first one states, “Be impeccable with your word.”

Hah. As if. That would mean I might have to – horror – tell the truth.

If I want to be impeccable with my word, I have to learn to say “no” as well as “yes.”

What was most interesting about my workshop experience is how I learned that I can say no – just no – and still do so with kindness and respect. I don’t have to make it flowery. I don’t have to say “please” or “thank you.” I don’t have to dress up my manners or my response. My tone of voice, my nonverbal cues (facial expression, body language, eye contact), how I’m feeling on the inside – these add color enough.

The other key point the workshop taught me about saying no is that it is always a dual response.

For example, when someone asks me to do something I don’t want to do and I say “no,” I am simultaneously saying “yes” to me. I am freeing up my time to use it for something I really do want to do.

Of course there are so many nuances that often need to be factored in. Sometimes I agree to do something I don’t want to do because it meets another need or desire I want to say yes to, like helping out a friend or a family member. Maybe I don’t really want to help clean out their garage or feed their cat, but I say yes because it makes me happy to help someone I love.

And sometimes I say no to something I want to say yes to because saying yes would conflict with a commitment I made to myself. Let’s say I’m in the mood to go shopping, and a friend calls and asks me to go shopping with her. But I’ve just recently promised myself to conserve funds, which requires not going shopping. So I say no when I want to say yes, because otherwise I would feel like a traitor to what I promised myself.

So it can get complicated. Happily, after taking the workshop I spent about a year working with a wonderful life coach, and she taught me how to tune in to my inner intuition in these types of situations. She told me that her personal rule is: “It is always a ‘no’ until it is a ‘yes.'”

By this she meant that unless she heard a firm inner “yes” – like an intuitive click that was kind of the equivalent of jumping up and down and clapping her hands – she assumed her answer was a “no” until such time as her inner state changed to one of enthusiastic acceptance.

I fell in love with this strategy instantly and have been using it ever since.

Attending the workshop taught me that I have trouble saying no and gave me some clues as to why (and it also taught me I’m not the only one who struggles in this way!).

Next, my life coach gave me a practical way of following Don Miguel Ruiz’s first Agreement by tuning in to my inner yes or no.

And then finally, one day not too long ago, I woke up and realized I already have a great team of pint-sized mentors who live in my house with me and are perfectly willing to serve as role models for saying no.

Pearl, my parrot, Malti, my tortoise, and Bruce, my box turtle, NEVER say yes when they mean no. Ever.

If I offer Pearl a green leaf and he isn’t hungry, he won’t just ignore me. He will hiss. If I still don’t get the hint and take the green thing away, he will bite it or me (whichever is closer).

The same holds true for my shells. Whether it is taking a bath or getting a shell scratch or going to the dreaded V.E.T., I never wonder for even one second what they would prefer or whether they are being impeccable with their word. They are wired to tell the truth, and to do so as rapidly and succinctly as possible.

Thank goodness.

Because apparently, in my case, learning to say “no” with confidence takes a team – or at least it has with me. But today, thanks to my team’s efforts, I am getting much better at saying no….and meaning it.

Today’s Takeaway: Do you ever find yourself waffling….saying no when you want to say yes, or yes when you want to say no? What typically happens if your insides and outsides are not in agreement when you answer? What helps you stick to your guns and say what you truly feel and mean?