Cooperative Communication: Accepting "No."

Owning Your “No”

“In an ideal world, we would ask for 100% of what we want, 100% of the time, listen to what others want, and negotiate to agreement.”
Finding Your Voice, Nancy Shanteau

At Thursday’s goal-setting workshop, the first in a series for the Network’s Direct Democracy pilot, we exercised a strategy-building practice centered on asking for 100% of what we want in a Brigade or on a project team. If, like me, your head starts swimming with thoughts of all the things! you want as a Network community member – don’t worry, the exercise limited each of us to one idea. But, just one idea is more than enough to get me started.

For the exercise, I chose radical inclusivity as my 100% – if we’re talking ideals, if we’re pushing 100, my top priority is fostering a radical level of inclusivity in every space I share. And as necessary as it is for me to center this as my starting point in all the things!, it’s much easier for me to say than do. I have limits; those limits will naturally exclude the needs of another at some point.

The very concept of inclusivity (and if it’s not a radical kind, is it any kind of inclusivity at all?) often seems like it’s asking us to circle each other’s needs in a never-ending chain of “Yes, and…” with an overabundance of caution. It can certainly play out like that.

In reality, radical inclusivity becomes a practice of saying “No.” to one another clearly and fearlessly.

Sitting With Limits

The trouble with trauma is that it’s predictably unpredictable; what activates a trauma response can change daily, a mystery solved only through hindsight sleuthery. Clear connections between what happened and what… happened are always easy to make after-the-fact. But, recovery from trauma easily resists plans built on moments already past.

Trauma can manifest into a kind of rejection sensitivity, which responds to saying or hearing “No.” as a threat of something worse to come, or as itself a kind of unfair indictment of mine or another’s character. The act of exchanging even one “No.” to get to a mutual “Yes.” requires a calculated effort to make it through a gauntlet of internalized trauma responses.

I don’t often make it out the other side of that gauntlet gracefully. It’s hard to be clear – it’s hard to be fearless – in moments like that. Practicing saying “No.” isn’t simple in a highly motivated, action-oriented community like ours either! We say “Yes.” to a lot around here! Offering a “No.” can feel like an unwelcome disruption to all that yes-powered energy.

How safe do we feel finding our own voice when we want to say, “No.”? How can we create a sense of safety for someone else finding their voice when they want to say, “No.”?

Check out the goal-setting workshop materials, plus the Unlearnables Jamboard provided in this week’s Lunch & Unlearn, for more prompts on these topics.

Stay Up-to-Date and Get Involved

We’re developing a Code of Care together as a Network; we’ve started with this community care (co)pilot to increase awareness and strengthen trauma-informed skills within our community. Co-practices in this pilot invite individuals and small groups to join me, a peer support specialist, for a conversation around how we define care and harm for ourselves and navigate those experiences with others.

Sign up today to join me in a co-practice!

And keep an eye out for the Direct Democracy pilot’s meeting schedule, it’ll be published soon. You can contact Sierra Ramírez on Slack or through email ( for more information and training about how to apply direct democracy practices in your Brigade or project team. Brigade leaders can also sign up for strategic consultations – learn more here.

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@renejoywrites, you never cease to amaze me with the profound thoughts you so wonderfully write with your sword of ink. I truly enjoyed your lunch and learn. I hope others make time to explore this unique and needed concept within this space. As you and I have discussed, ones personal well being is essential here. It’s not coding that is our personal draw to this network, it’s our lived experiences. Frankly, I could never have imagined how my experience as an individual who has been in and out of our social services system, at times a single mother, financially disadvantaged and a minority could be such of an asset. I appreciate being able to have this safe communication without judgement that you are bringing about. For our network to make the impact we strive for, more individuals with lived experiences are an absolute must! Providing this community care element brings forward the human centered compassion necessary for those of us willing to share and others willing to do the same. I am willing to go a step further and invite anyone who would like more context of the struggls that some may not be familiar with or too shy to ask about to feel free to reach out to me. We are in this field to help our communities and I have learned to embrace the community I represent.

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I always appreciate your encouragement, @MCNorris. Thank you so much for your co-practice support! I think you’ve really spoken to the heart of community care’s purpose in any volunteer network, but especially one like ours. In a human-centered practice, honoring every person’s lived experience as unique, irreplaceable expertise is essential for equitable work to take place.

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