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The Power of “No”

When we talk about our most valuable friends, we usually begin by listing those who are kind and caring, there when we need them, and supportive of our choices. While these qualities are certainly important, there is one other type of support from trusted friends, colleagues, and mentors that is surprising and absolutely essential: rejection.

Now, at first glance, embracing rejection may sound exceptionally strange. “Isn’t rejection something we usually try to avoid?” Indeed, we have all at some point in the past been bitten by harsh words from people who were unhappy with us. This is certainly not the type of rejection I’m talking about. Instead, in the context of our closest relationships, supportive rejection is that neutral or kind voice sharing with us concerns about the choices we are making, how we are behaving, and how we are treating ourselves and others. Since we are all (present company included) capable of deceiving ourselves, long-term success rests heavily on having trusted others in our lives who are willing to point out when they think we are going off-course.

There are three types of rejection that we all may need at various times from the important people in our lives. Before I share these, however, I’d like you to consider the following questions: First, are you a person who actively seeks input and critical feedback from the people closest to you? Second, do you respond graciously and gratefully when others share their suggestions, even when the advice doesn’t resonate with your current perspective? Each of these represent skills that take great courage, a strong self-esteem, and a powerful commitment to your own growth and success.

So what are these forms of rejection that are important forms of support? Let’s call them the Three Rs:

The first R stands for REFUSAL. One of the main reasons we are successful is that our parents were willing to support us by refusing or rejecting many of our preferences regarding food choices, bedtime, and homework vs. play, etc. They likely incurred our wrath, but they were doing the right thing, trying to provide us with the good health, structure, and discipline we needed to succeed in the world. Such positive refusal in adulthood is often met with dissatisfaction. For example, one of the great frustrations many physicians face is patients who become angry when doctors do not prescribe unnecessary medications, such as antibiotics or pain pills that can cause addiction. The doctor may be supporting a client’s health, but the patient may not be able to see this perspective. On the other hand, there are numerous examples where refusal has also been used purposefully and respectfully to achieve exceptional outcomes. In business and creative endeavors, for example, founder and CEO of Amazon Jeff Bezos describes an interesting process for creating new products. He invites his staff to tell him “this will never work” and to describe why (refusal), then they build the company’s successful products from there. As he describes it, “By the end, I am never sure I invented anything at all.”

The second R stands for REFRAMING. This occurs when a supportive person chooses to reject our perspective of a behavior or situation, allowing us to look at it from a different angle. For example, if you were to cry in front of a friend, you may immediately begin to wipe away the tears and apologize. The good friend does not reject our grief or the crying itself, but instead rejects our apology with a comment such as, “I’m glad you trust me enough to let me see you this way. It only makes me care for you more.” When 3M, one of the most innovative companies in the world, experiences a product failure, they set off a cannon and have a party! They reject the idea that the product was a flop and, instead, reframe the message to assure their creative workforce that every failure brings them closer to success. A most poignant example of supportive reframing comes from a personal experience: When I was about eight years old, I was riding in the car with my father, who was not someone I usually confided in. Much to both of our surprise, I started to cry. He asked, “What’s wrong son?” I blurted out, “Dad I think I’m ugly….my ears are so big!” If he’d said that they were not, I doubt it would have helped. However, after a few moments of silence, he confidently said, “Don’t worry son, your head will grow.” Perfect logic to an eight-year old boy, and a wonderful example of the power of reframing.

The third R stands for REFERRAL. This type of support occurs when we take a problem to a friend or colleague and they, in turn, gently guide us to the person or resource they feel would be more appropriate or helpful. Essentially, they reject themselves as the source of support and wisely steer us to someone or someplace where we might receive better help.

In the end, our most valuable life friends and partners are not only those who are most attentive, caring, and supportive of our choices, but also the ones willing to reject us – to refuse, reframe, and refer as needed when challenges arise. A friend who can deliver one of more of these R’s is a rare and precious find, and we cannot get very far in life without them.

9 Ways for You to Keep Your Personal Power

Giving away your personal power robs you of mental strength. But maintaining control in your life requires that you make a conscious choice to take back your power. Before you can create positive change, you need to recognize the ways in which you give your power away.

Here are 9 ways to keep your personal power:

1. Don’t waste energy complaining.

There’s a big difference between complaining and problem-solving. Venting to your friends, family, and co-workers keeps you focused on the problem and prevents you from creating a solution. Grumbling implies that you have no power over your situation, and also shows that you lack power over your attitude.

2. Accept responsibility for how you feel.

Don’t let other people’s behavior dictate your emotions. Saying your mother-in-law makes you feel bad about yourself, or claiming that your boss makes you mad, suggests that they have power over how you feel. Instead, accept that it is up to you to manage your emotions, regardless of how others behave.

3. Establish healthy boundaries.

Giving in to guilt trips, or refusing to speak up for yourself, gives power to other people. Rather than blame them for wasting your time or “forcing” you to do something, recognize that you’re in charge of yourself. Establish healthy physical and emotional boundaries that give you control over how you spend your time and with whom you spend it.

4. Practice forgiveness.

Holding a grudge against someone who has hurt you doesn’t punish the other person—it only punishes you. When you waste valuable time thinking about a person you feel wronged you, it takes away your ability to enjoy the moment.

Forgiving someone is the best way to take back your power. But to be clear, forgiveness isn’t about saying what the person did was OK. It’s about choosing to let go of the hurt and anger that interferes with your ability to enjoy life.

5. Know your values.

When you’re not clear what your values are, you’re at risk of becoming a helpless passenger rather than a confident driver of own life. You’ll be at risk of jumping on board with other people’s ideas and may be easily led astray. Take back your power by acknowledging your values and living true to what’s important to you.

6. Don’t waste time on unproductive thoughts.

Have you ever come home from work and spent the entire evening wishing you didn’t have to go back again tomorrow? Suddenly, you’re giving your eight-hour workday 12 hours of your time. Take control over the thoughts that occupy your mind so you don’t give more brainpower to areas of your life that don’t deserve it.

7. Avoid language that implies you’re a victim.

Saying things like, “I have to work 60 hours a week,” or, “I had no choice but to say yes,” infers that you’re a victim of unfortunate circumstances. While there will certainly be consequences for the decisions you make, acknowledge that you always have choices.

8. Make your self-worth independent of other people’s opinions.

If your self-worth depends on others holding you in high regard, you’ll likely become a people-pleaser. Not everyone needs to like you, nor do they have to agree with your lifestyle. Evaluate the merit of criticism you receive, but never allow any one person’s opinion determine your self-worth.

9. Be willing to stand out from the crowd.

Self-doubt and fear can lead you to want to blend in with those around you. But trying to fit in with the crowd will cause you to disguise who you really are. Trust that you’re mentally strong enough to stand out and dare to be different.