The No StageNo! is a natural response for most people when they are confronted with a situation that may require a response. Resistance to change should be an expected and accepted part of any community-decision process. Different people will spend varying amounts of time in the No! stage. Sometimes it just takes time for the reality of the situation sink in. In some cases people will move back into the What? stage to check on their understanding of the issue. During the No! stage, the focus should be on continuing to provide more information and, importantly, providing time for individuals to unpack and repack their thoughts through conversation.

No! can also help clarify exactly what is at stake for various individuals and groups. The No! stage is very helpful for community leaders to learn how an issue impacts community members and what parts of the issue are of greater or lesser importance to which groups. Leaders should welcome the No! stage as an opportunity to gain more clarity around the issue and its effect on community members. Leaders can prepare themselves for the No! stage by articulating the issue as clearly as possible and asking the following question: When and/or how will people feel the impact of the decisions we make?

Complex community-decision processes will attract some dissenters who will remain in the No! stage throughout the process. The dissenters’ motives might be well meaning, but they could also be vindictive, ideological, political, or simply selfserving. Community members may or may not disclose their motives. In all cases community leaders should continue to invite and listen to dissenting views. The art is to build a relationship with the dissenters even if their views are not adopted by the community. Dissenting opinions become a part of the community’s reality. The dissent must be acknowledged, and the dissenters should be respected, especially as the community moves forward.

Both the What? and the No! stages are often characterized by community rumors, half-truths, and innuendo. In the absence of shared understanding, community members latch on to small bits of information, unfounded concerns, and improbable scenarios. Meetings can and will be sidetracked by community members who do not yet—and might never—agree with fundamental assumptions and shared facts.

Leaders must expend extra effort at this stage to ask questions of uninformed or dissenting community members to understand how they have arrived at their opinions. By asking questions the leader demonstrates respect and broadens the dialogue to allow for further education about the issue. Asking questions at this stage is not just about educating community members. Leaders are often surprised by what they learn about specific concerns
and interests, which can be incorporated into the eventual solution.

Characteristics of a person in the No! stage:

  • disinterested
  • focused on other things
  • resistant
  • avoidant
  • negative
  • dismissive
  • already biased
  • prejudiced about process

What this person needs to proceed to the next stage:

  • He or she needs to connect the situation to his or her own interests and determine his or her specific concerns related to the issue.

How the leader can help:

  • Anticipate others’ concerns based upon their interests.
  • Confront “no” with “I think this matters to you because.…”
  • Confront “no” with “Help me understand how you have come to this point of view.”

— Previous book post: Stage 1: What?

— Next up: Stage 3: Oh!

Greg Ranstrom and John Blakinger are authors of the new  book The Moment of Oh! a guide to help communities make tough decisions. (edit)