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Monday, January 6

Just Say Yes -- To Everything. Including Your Kids.

Musical quarter note containing a sad face
Why start on a down note? 
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The Black-Belt Communication series provides step-by-step tools and scripts for solving all of life’s communication problems. In this episode, we solve relationship negativity.

Have people stopped inviting you to events? Is nobody asking your opinion about anything? Do you call yourself a “realist”?* Have two or more people used any of the following words to describe you: cynical, no fun, downer, pessimistic, too busy, defeatist, never has time?

Hey, Negative Nancy and Problem Pete: We need to talk.

Are you that person?

Listen, I have seven kids. I know why you’re always saying no. Mom? Mommy? Mommmyyy! You’ve got people wanting stuff from you all the blessed time: Your money, your attention, your time, your input, your attendance, your documentation, your answer, your ID, your blood. 

After awhile, “no” becomes your default response. 

It’s what you say when you need time to think, when you don’t have time to think, when you’re too tired to think. Eventually, you get in the habit of shooting down everyone’s ideas because it’s just. one. more. thing. 

Friend, if that’s you…the problem isn’t other people. You’ve dug your own ditch with your overcommitted, anxious, chaotic life that doesn’t have space for human connection.

If you’re the naysayer, it’s time to recognize that you have actually become a problem for other people. Hearing no is disheartening, it’s discouraging, it’s unkind. From the listener’s perspective, you’re saying no because you dislike the person, think they’re stupid, believe they’re not worth your while. You’re perceived as arrogant, uncooperative, cold, and definitely unfun.

Cat’s in the cradle

Surely you don’t want to be in the business of having people hate you, right? But at the same time, you don’t want to give away the store, become a pushover with no boundaries, feel like a doormat.

You’ve come to the right place. Here’s how to keep your boundaries and at the same time build relationships with the people you love.

Ready? Start with Yes.

Every time someone asks for something, give them some version of Yes.

But, but, but…what if…

Settle down...The Titanic isn’t about to sink. There are three versions of Yes that will cover all your concerns. Ready?

Version One: Dive in. 

If you can, take a deep breath and do version one: Sure. Absolutely. Definitely. You can count on me. I’ll give it a try. You may. I’ll do it. I’ll be there. Any time.

Just take a chance on Yes.
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Give permission. Agree to proposals. Give it a shot. Find a way to make it happen. And if you don’t have the secret codes, help them find someone who does.

Here’s what happens when you do version one of Yes: People start to trust you with their feelings, their ideas, and their secrets. They enjoy being around you. They grow stronger and develop self-confidence.

If and when they fail (because no, kid, you really can’t jump across that puddle without getting wet), you help them to get back on their feet, grow in wisdom, and try again from a new angle.

Version one is the best version of Yes. Let people make mistakes. Try things someone else’s way. Sometimes, people can surprise you. Trying is almost never a mistake.

Version Two: Yes, when.

  • Yes, when your plate is clean.
  • Yes, when I’ve had a nap.
  • Yes, when when I get my bonus.
  • Yes, when the board approves it.
  • Yes, when you get your own apartment.
  • Yes, when hell freezes over.
OK, maybe not that last one. This is the slightly less cooperative, but still positive, version of Yes. A condition has to occur before permission can be granted.

This version of Yes lets people know what they have to do to get what they want. It gives hope, it offers solutions. You’re willing to vacation at the hot, sticky, sandy, dirty, noisy beach, when you have a very large towel, a good book, and an air-conditioned hotel room. OK then. Let’s do that!

Here’s the caveat: If you’ve offered a “Yes, when”, and the listener meets the condition, you don’t get to whine and complain or backtrack. You gave your word. Cheerfully accommodate the ask — or risk becoming a world-class jerk.

Version Three: Help me say Yes.

  • I want to say Yes, but I’m struggling with X. Can we resolve that so I can get on board?
  • I really want to do that. How could we pay for it?
  • I get why that seems like a good idea. You’re hoping to fix X. Do you have solution for the conflict with Y?
  • That does sound like fun. If I weren’t committed to (this contract, sobriety, my marriage, staying out of jail, living), I’d totally be on board. But thank you for asking, and I wish you the best of luck.
“Help me say Yes” means “I can’t see a way past this obstacle, but if the path were clear, I’d agree.” That’s a tougher stance than “Yes, when.” It generally means “Sorry, no.” But at least you’re not being a knee-jerk reactionary. You’re understanding the request, taking it seriously, and offering a considered, thoughtful response that doesn’t make the asker feel stupid.

*You’re not a “Realist”

Just a little side note, before we conclude this discussion on the positive outcomes of positivity: If you’ve used the phrase “I’m not a pessimist; I’m a realist,” here’s a reality check: No you’re not. (Also: Every English-speaking pessimist on earth uses that same phrase, so it’s not even particularly clever.)

Your “realism” is no more real than the optimist’s realism. You’re both predicting an unknown future using identical criteria. The optimist is focusing on best-case outcomes, while accepting the possibility of failure. The pessimist is taking the same data, and focusing attention on the negative possibilities, while minimizing the potential upside.

Neither person is “real” because the future is unknowable and un-real. But since most efforts at least move people closer to the goal, and failing to try keeps you stagnant or causes you to fall behind, positivity is actually the more “real” possibility.

Nancy, Pete, you get to choose your focus. Consider, if you will, choosing to focus on the positive. It’ll make you more loveable and help you achieve more in life. Isn’t that reason enough?

LauraMaery Gold, LMFT, lives with her husband in a 400-year-old castle just outside of Paris. She is a licensed marriage and family therapist working with couples and parents. She is also the director of The Relationship Institute and the author of oh-so-very-many books on family concerns.