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The different shades of a NO



“Dad, can I play a computer game with my friend?”

“NO”

“You mean, I can’t play computer games with my friend?”

“Yes, that is what I meant.”

“It means, I can play the computer game by myself?”

“NO”

“You are saying, I can’t play computer games with myself or my friend.”

“Yes”

“But I can play something else with him.”

“No”

“I can’t play anything with my friend”

“That is correct”

“I can play non-computer games on my own?”

“NO. You cannot play with anyone anything at this moment. It is time to sleep.”

“Okay. But tomorrow I can play computer games with my friend.”

“We will see tomorrow. Now switch off the lights and go to sleep.”


As adults when someone gives us a NO for an answer, we take it as a full and final answer. Nothing to be negotiated about it. We don’t go out to understand that NO and learn to negotiate around a NO. If two adults have the following conversation,

“Can I buy a new dress?”

“No”

Now, this No is taken as you cannot buy a new dress at all. The person at the receiving end does not think there is scope for negotiation. Would a child have left it at that? Highly unlikely. He would have parsed that NO statement endlessly drilling it down to the tiniest NO instead of a broad and pervasive NO.


There are some things we can keep in our mind when someone says a NO. Tentative questions in the brackets receiving a NO as an answer can mean various things. Here are some shades of a NO.

I am not yet ready for this. (Would you like to learn dancing? Shall we get married? Do you want to quit the job?)

I do not fully understand what you want. (Is it time for a medical check-up? Shall we rearrange the home?)

I need time to think it over. (Shall we plan our vacation?

I cannot agree at the present time. (Shall we adopt a pet?)

I cannot agree with this in the present place. (I want to talk about finances, shall we?)

I cannot agree to this in the presence of the people around us. (Do you want to discuss our house building plans?)

I do not have the money for this now. (Is it a good idea to paint the house?)

I do not want it with you. (Do you want to go shopping?)

I would prefer to talk to someone else. (Would you like to talk about the incident?)


We should not take a NO as a complete rejection of our request. We should learn from children to negotiate a NO. Negotiating a No also brings in clarity and cuts of misunderstanding.

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