Relationship Tip #6: Seek the “Yes” behind the “No”

The key to fostering connection in the face of a ‘no’ is always hearing ‘yes’ to something else.

~ Marshall Rosenberg, Founder of Compassionate (Nonviolent) Communication

There’s a “yes” behind the “no”?

YES.  Since every action, thought, and word is sourced by a Universal Human Need, there is always a “yes” behind the “no”.  Unfortunately, we are so well-versed in taking the “no’s” we hear personally that we fail to exercise our choice to find that “yes”.  Instead, we make a judgment about ourselves (i.e. I was rejected) which is likely to trigger shame or anger — emotions that tend to get us stuck.  The Compassionate Communication alternative:

  1. First go inside to touch your feelings.  You can translate your judgment by asking yourself, “How do I feel when I judge that I’m rejected?”  I’m guessing that emotions like sadness, disappointment, and discouragement might arise.
  2. Then connect your feelings to your needs.  Perhaps you are sad because you are wanting clarity about the other person’s reasons for their decision. Or you may be disappointed because  you really care for the other person and long for companionship.   This actions connects you to your motivations or as I offered in my first relationship tip, your “why.”
  3. Once you are connected to your needs (that means your are aware and accepting of them and no longer significantly triggered by the situation), extend your caring awareness to guess at the other person’s needs underneath their “no”. This is a form of imaginative empathy where you guess the “yes” behind the “no.”  This guess sets the stage for a…
  4. Dialogue with the other person.  Here you check-in with the other person and see if your imaginative empathy from Step 3 was accurate.

Heartbreak and Choosing “Rejection”

In August of 2000, I fell in love. Though I was the ripe old age of 30, it was the first time I had every been in love (I’m a late-bloomer:).  It was my first experience of the euphoria that comes when so many important needs are met (care, touch, companionship, partnership, beauty, etc.).   My paramour’s name was Amy and I met her through work. The first time I saw her, I really wanted to get to know her better.  As we spent more time together, I wanted to get to know her even better and we became a couple.  We laughed so much together…I thought she was perfect…I though it would last forever…

Three weeks into the relationship, it ended.  We had a disagreement during which I became angry.  The next day we met outside Bread and Cie, a popular bakery in the Hillcrest neighborhood of San Diego. Earlier that day, I had purchased a new car (my now-17 year-old Toyota Echo) that she had helped me pick out.  I was looking forward to showing it to her.   Her face was tighter than usually as I sat down with her on the outdoor patio.  I no longer remember the exact words she used (and I’m not excited about finding my journal entry where they are logged) but I remember that I judged myself as being rejected, and I remember that, once I was out of her view, I leaned against a wall, dropped to my knees and sobbed.

It would have been easier to move through the pain I felt if I had never seen her again.  Then I could have chosen the coping strategy that I think is common for men in this situation: blaming the woman and finding ways (some irrational) to make sense of her decision by telling myself that “She was wrong” or that “we were not a good match, anyway” or that “It would never have worked out so It’s good it’s over.”  But I still saw her at work.  We were in the same building and, no matter how hard I tried to avoid her, I would see her a couple times a day and feel the pain ever deeper.

Marshall Saves the Day

Another month rolled by and I was still feeling a great deal of pain about the situation.  Though I had received support from a great number of friends, I couldn’t help still caring for her and I was unable to release myself from my judgment that she had said “no” to me despite the shame and anger that followed.

In this context, I saw Marshall Rosenberg share an Introduction to Compassionate Communication at the First Church of the Brethren in San Diego.  It was the 3rd or 4th time I had seen him though I had heard him speak hundreds of times on his Introductory tape (remember those) since a friend gave it me in the Fall of 1992.  He said the same things that he said at every training, but this time my broken heart forced me to hear them differently. When he introduced the concept of needs as the motivator for everything we do, I saw a light at the end of my pain-filled tunnel.

This insight gave me a glimmer of hope that I could choose another way that the one I had chosen.   It took time but I was able to apply the four steps listed above:

  • First go inside to touch your feelings.  Underneath the judgment of rejection, I was sad, forlorn, hopeless, and tired.
  • Then connect your feelings to your needs.  These feelings were connect to unmet needs for understanding about what I was experiencing, clarity about her motivations, care for her well-being and ease in moving on with my life!
  • Once you are connected to your needs (that means your are aware and accepting of them and no longer significantly triggered by the situation), extend your caring awareness to guess at the other person’s needs underneath their “no”.  Once I grasped what I needing, I focused my attention on her.  I imagined that she was shocked and frightened by my anger because she wanted ease, peace, and harmony.  I imagined that she was saying “yes” to meeting those and that she was not willing to be in relationship with me without trust that I wouldn’t get angry again.  Empathizing will her gave me some relief and lessened the pain of seeing her at work.
  • Dialogue with the other person.  I never had an authentic dialogue with her about these issues.  She didn’t seem open to it and I did not want to press her. We never did became friends and, at the same time, this process set me on the path to healing.  I was able to acknowledge my unmet needs and hers and find ways to manage and, eventually, decrease my pain.

Seeking the “yes” in the “no”…choosing to find the light in the darkness…caring for yourself while caring for others…these are steps on the path to a world where everyone Communicated with Heart!