Why the word “No” is affecting your relationships – and how you can change that

Why the word “No” is affecting your relationships – and how you can change that

Posted by Adi Wallach on


Let's talk about the word “no” and how it affects the way you converse with other people. First, let's try this exercise – Don't think about polar bears right now.

While that may seem like an odd test, it's pretty likely you just thought about polar bears, even for a moment, even though the sentence said not to think of them.

Maybe you thought of a cute video you saw on social media or the melting polar icecaps.

a picture of two polar bears playing on ice caps

Wherever your mind went, I'm sure you had your mind focused on polar bears despite the warning, even if was for only a split second. You wouldn't have even contemplated thinking about polar bears a minute before that, but because I asked you not to think about them, you did anyway.



Why did that happen? It happened because our subconscious doesn't understand the word “no” (and, thusly, it avoids the word “don’t" as well).

Are you familiar with the situation when, for example, you say to a child “don't put the wet towel on the floor,” and they immediately do?

It's not because they’re doing it just to spite you, or because they’re testing boundaries (even though they might be); it's usually because our subconscious doesn't understand the word “no.”

And, like in the polar bear exercise, our subconscious omits the words ‘no' and 'don't' and hears the rest. This occurrence is especially frustrating in our communication with children because we are supposed to be teaching them what not to do, but it's true for any person who we communicate with.


Because of these miscommunications, it creates unnecessary stress – we think we’re asking our loved ones and children to do one thing, but their subconscious is telling them to do the exact opposite. The differences in what each person has perceived as being communicated to them can contribute to stress and anxiety in relationships on both ends.

So, what can you do?

It’s actually pretty simple.

Replace the ‘no' with the ‘yes' (or the 'don't' with a 'do') to enlist their
(and your) subconscious and get it to cooperate.

For example, with children: instead of saying "don't put the wet towel on the floor," say, "please hang the wet towel in the bathroom." Or, instead of "don't bite your sister" say, "if you feel that you need to bite, chew on a carrot."

Changing the way we speak, from 'no' to 'yes,' requires some practice but enables us to create an alternative for the child. It also helps to direct them towards what they
should be doing, instead of leaving them focused on what we didn't want them to do without any replacement (which will usually cause them to perform the undesired action repeatedly). It also enables us to remain calmer and with fewer frustrations.

There's a trick for removing the word 'no' from your conversations with adults too. Instead of saying, "don't forget to call me before you arrive," you can say, for example, "please call me ten minutes before you are due to arrive." In the first scenario, you're reinforcing their ability to forget the message you are trying to get across.

Another example would be to avoid saying "don't leave the presentation open on your desktop when you finish." Instead, say "please close the presentation when you finish." In this manner, we are doing the maximum to enlist the other's subconscious, raise the odds of achieving what we want, and decrease the chances of conflict and excessive anger. And effective communication not only decreases our anxiety, but improves our relationships!

Are “no” and “don’t” commonly used words in your vocabulary? I’d love to hear what you think if you try out this exercise.

Leave a comment below with your thoughts. I look forward to reading them!


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