Recently I had to make a decision about a meeting I’d been invited to attend.
I couldn’t decide. It didn’t feel quite right to go, but it didn’t feel quite right not to go, either.
Does that ever happen to you? Saying yes doesn’t feel right, and saying no doesn’t feel right either. You want… something… but not what’s being offered.
I called a friend for support (something I’ve learned to do from my Nonviolent Communication practice) and the analogy that came to me as I was talking my friend was this:
There’s someone I want to spend time with. I know they want to spend time with me.
Suddenly, they’re next to me in their car, idling in the middle of the street. I’m on the sidewalk.
A line of traffic is growing impatient behind them. The passenger door is open and I have to decide right away – get in the car and go with them, or shut the door and let them get on their way.
“Get in the car or shut the door!”
Horns are starting to sound.
I want to spend time with them, but I don’t want to go where they’re headed. I don’t even want to be in the car right now!
I want to keep walking and enjoying the beautiful sunny day. I’d love to go for walk in the forest with them, but that’s not one of the options. They don’t have time to pull over.
In this moment, I either need to say yes or no to the car ride.
What’s your version of “Get in the car or shut the door”?
What choice is facing you right now where you have to either get in the car (say yes to something that’s not quite right), or shut the door (say no to something you kind of want)?
The “get in the car or shut the door” dilemma is what happens as we get clearer and clearer about our own needs.
The world each one of us is moving around in has never had anything exactly like us before. The options the world offers us come from a world that didn’t yet include us. If this world is going to be a perfect fit for us, we’re going to have to articulate what that fit is and then create it.
No one else can do it for us.
As for me, I shut the door. I said no in that moment, in order to find out what I REALLY wanted to say yes to.
Once I said no – and gave myself space to find out why – it became clear to me that the general topic of the meeting was a cause I cared about, but I wasn’t excited about the way the meeting was framed, and I didn’t have much hope that I could contribute something that mattered to me in the role I was invited to fill.
My Nonviolent Communication practice helps me do this. It gives me the tools to articulate what really would be a fit for me. I can take that “it’s-not-quite-right-to-say-yes-and-it’s-not-quite-right-to-say-no” feeling and translate it into the deeper values that I’m trying to honor.
When I get clear about the values, when the information that’s implicitly held in my body reaches the language centers of my brain where I can turn it into words that make sense to my conscious mind, I have access to creative and novel ideas about how to respond to the world.
In the language of NVC, when I get clear about the universal human needs that are touched in me, I can find better strategies for attending to those needs.
Our needs knock on our door in the form of thoughts, intuitions, and physical sensations — thoughts like, “I don’t really want to go to that meeting, but I don’t want to not go, either.”
If we choose to open up to find out the deeper messages they are bringing us, we can come up with novel ways to be in the world, expressions of our uniqueness that haven’t yet been here.
When I’ve done that exploration with myself, I am much better prepared to approach someone else and say, “Here’s what’s important to me. What’s important to you? Let’s find something that works for both of us.”
And that’s brings us to the current moment. I’ve uncovered what I want, and what I was saying yes to by saying no to that meeting:
I want to focus 100% on tasks that take full advantage of my particular skills, experience, and passion.
I need to adjust my role in this project to reflect that priority.
Now it’s time for me to take the next step: to bring my clarity about what I DO want back to a conversation with the person who invited me, and see what we can create together that actually works for both of us, in service of our shared purpose, where neither one of us has to decide between two things that aren’t quite a fit.
If that sounds like a pipe dream to you, you’re not alone: most of us have never actually had an experience of partnering with someone in this way. I hadn’t either until my Nonviolent Communication practice gave me the roadmap to get there.
And, it takes saying no. I had to shut the door in order to find the space I needed to even know what was important to me.
If I had just gotten in the car, if I had just said yes to the meeting, I wouldn’t have had the space I needed to find out what my body was trying to tell me.
I know this because I have a lot of experience of just getting in the car, of just saying yes to some request because a part of me thinks it’s the only way I can contribute to something important to me. And what I’ve found is that the more I give myself space to find out what my full yes is, the more powerful I am.
What do you need to say no to in order to find out what your yes is?
What door do you need to shut for now?
I’m excited for you. You’re the only one who can find out, and I’m certain that what you have to bring is so needed right now.