Have you ever tried to tell someone NO and they just don’t, or won’t, hear you?
California’s latest attempt to stem the campus rape problem with a “YES Means YES” law is interesting. While I am not convinced morality can be legislated, the attempt to change the language of the issue could be powerful.
Last week I wrote about the power of saying NO when claiming your power; this week I’ll muddy the issue. This week I am talking about the use of the word to stop bad or unwanted behavior, where it doesn’t work.
I have long heard that the brain doesn’t hear the word NO. There is much anecdotal evidence: try telling a child not to slam the door. There is even a story, perhaps apocryphal, about a famous pitcher who was poised to win the deciding game in the World Series when his manager told him: “Just don’t throw the ball inside”; he threw the ball inside and lost the game and series because he didn’t hear the NO in his manager’s words.
Scientists studying how the brain reacts to negative words are now better able to explain the problem. One scientific report* calls NO the “most dangerous word in the world”, impacting the brain development of both the speaker and the listener. The word induces anxiety, irritability and emotional turmoil, especially when said in anger. That certainly gives a fresh perspective on a lot of the problems with negativity and the word NO.
I’m not a scientist or a psychologist, but reading the literature reinforced for me the wisdom of efforts to eliminate negativity in favor of positivity. If the word NO is so ineffective, you are better served by stating what it is you want, clearly and succinctly. In the case of the rape debate, instead of saying NO, you would be better served by saying STOP or something else clearly directive.
This is sometimes hard to do. If you are in an emotionally charged situation it is difficult to think and NO is a natural, self-protective response. I experienced this myself recently. A man wanted to tell me something I considered appallingly offensive. Each time he tried to bring it up I told him: “NO, I don’t want that image in my head”. After three or four attempts to stop him, he simply blurted out the brutally disgusting information. I would have been much better served to say: “STOP, I don’t want that image in my head”.
Getting rid of all the negatives in your language is very difficult. I now practice STOP so I will be better prepared should a similar situation should arise.
Do you hear it when someone tells you no? How does it impact you?
Do you ever say NO? Think of what it is you want and say that instead.
* Mark Waldman and Andrew Newburg, M.D. in Words Can Change Your Brain, July 31, 2012.