No Fear vs. Fear of No

Fear scrabbleThe emotions of fear cover a wide spectrum from mild concerns to absolute paranoia. Everyone experiences fear to some degree at some point, ranging from childhood fears like being afraid of what lurks beneath the bed, to full blown adult phobias. Fear can be as real and tangible as physical pain.

A vast array of fears and phobias exist. Arachnophobia, the fear of spiders appears to be fairly common while Scopophobia, the fear of being stared at, seems rare and obscure. Regardless of what you’re afraid of, fear is a powerful motivator. You probably don’t think of fear as a motivator. It is though. Not a motivator that inspires or sparks achievement, but one that creates hesitation, wavering and even paralysis. As William Arruda and Deb Dib so poignantly stated in their book Ditch, Dare, Do “The more you fear, the worst fear becomes”.


We loving hearing people tell us “Yes”. Yes is uplifting, it’s exhilarating. Author Jeffrey Gitomer wrote an entire book on having a “Yes, Attitude!” because yes  is so powerful. Dig through the archives in your memory and experiences where you were told yes are sure to surface. The greatest yes I ever received came on a tropical beach in Brazil, as I got down on one knee, with my knee in the sand and a diamond ring in hand. The memory of that “yes” still ignites a wave of emotion and excitement even 17 years later.


On the contrary, “No” is frightening. No represents more than merely the absence of yes. No incites sentiments of rejection. No feels personal. That’s why no scares us. In much the same way as yes, hearing no can leave a lasting impression, albeit a devastatingly negative impression.

  • “No, you didn’t make the team”
  • “No, you didn’t get the job”
  • “No, you’re not getting a raise”

No feels awful, it’s heart-wrenching. Consequently, people frequently avoid asking in order to steer clear of being told no.

A negotiation and persuasion class I took in grad school gave out an assignment to overcoming the fear of no. The assignment was simple, students were required to ask for things at home, at work, wherever… until they got 10 “No’s”. Each request was to be documented along with the answer received, either a yes or no. The assignment continued until the student received 10 no’s.  For most students, getting 10 no’s proved far more difficult than initially anticipated. The class quickly learned that when you have the courage to ask, you’re told yes more often than no.

Try it. Start asking for things until you get 10 No’s.

You might be surprised how many Yes’ you’ll receive. Then, share your experience.

One key to overcoming the fear of no is not taking it personal. It might take a few no’s to get to yes, in which case each no signifies one step closer to the next yes. The reward of receiving yes far outweighs the disappointing of a few no’s. It’s said that Director Peter Jackson was told no by several studios before New Line Cinema said yes to the Lord of The Rings movie project.

Although no feels risky, the greatest risk lies in not acting, doing or asking at all. Author and thought leader Seth Godin said “playing safe is very risky”. Maybe we should be afraid of not speaking up or not asking at all.

What is the fear of “no” holding you back from achieving?


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