liberating power of saying no

The liberating power of saying no and trying something new

A fundamental move in Cuban Salsa (couple dance) is Dile Que No, which literally means “tell him no!”. This is a transition move that follows almost every pattern of moves and acts like a break. In Dile Que No, the follower turns to the left of her partner, ending up in an open position. If dance is a non-verbal dialogue, then this move is the equivalent of signalling no to your partner. Of course, this has a playful meaning but the liberating power of saying no goes well beyond dancing.

Liberating power of saying no

How many times have you thought of saying no to someone?

Sometimes you struggle communicating with them and everything you say or do is easily misunderstood or not understood at all. Perhaps it is a business relationship, a friendship, an acquaintance, or even a romantic relationship that doesn’t work. When every interaction takes a lot of effort to be interesting, meaningful or real, then this is a clear sign that it is time to “tell them no!”.

Why invest too much time and energy on people with which you have little in common with and don’t share any similar values or beliefs? Yet, many of us normalise relationships that don’t work, assuming that somehow everything will eventually work out.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that people need to share exactly the same background and worldviews in order to get along. But there needs to be an overlapping area of understanding and a level of curiosity which will help establish the relationship. Otherwise, there might not be enough chemistry to overcome differences and allow the relationship to develop.

The chemistry between us

Once, I worked with a small group of 3 people. From the beginning, the relationship seemed difficult to establish. Everything I said was perceived and interpreted in an entirely different way from what intended. Although we were all speaking the same language, it felt as if I was speaking some weird dialect that had entirely different meaning to them. This was beyond disagreement and conflict. We were like a band that was making the most dissonant music ever. Every interaction with them felt like an uphill struggle, yet we chose to be superficially polite, instead of acknowledging that the relationship and dynamics didn’t feel natural.

I started feeling really stressed, I started doubting myself and felt drained. Soon I started losing my sleep. But mistakenly I kept going.

If only, I could say no as easily I could in the dance floor.

In Salsa, there is often poor chemistry between the two partners. I remember one evening I would give my dance partner a signal to do a half turn, and she would do two. I would signal her to one direction she would move to the opposite one. We were experiencing complete signal failure, like sometimes on the Tube in London. But the solution was easy and straightforward, I would complete the dance and then move to another partner.

Saying no can be really difficult sometimes as we think that we might hurt other peoples feelings or perhaps we are afraid we will look bad. However, there is nothing worse than the pretentious dance of people that do not get along with each other. Although we have a sixth sense in understanding what feels real and what not, we choose to get trapped in a situation that doesn’t work instead of discovering the liberating power of saying no.

Strength of weak ties

There are two types of ties in a social network, strong ties and weak ties. According to Tsvetovat, M, & Kouznetsov, when we enjoy interacting very frequently with someone this is a sign of a strong tie, which reflects the rich emotional content and influence in the relationship. In contrast, people with which we don’t interact often or don’t know very well are considered weak ties. Usually, weak ties require little effort or personal time to maintain, and involve little emotional attachment.

But, according to Mark Granovetter, weak ties also present a unique opportunity compared to strong ties. In his seminal work, “The strength of weak ties”, he explains how having a social network of weak ties with people that are different to you can actually lead to new opportunities, and innovation. In fact, many big innovations have come through interdisciplinary academic research of scientists that usually do not work together. Similarly, in jazz music, a lot of new ideas and sounds come when musicians jam with others they do not usually play with.

People that connect with weak ties can often be quite different. However, they still maintain a basic common ground and a level of curiosity that prevents them from engaging in conflict. In fact, it is this strange tension between novelty, curiosity and conflict that can lead to new relationships, opportunities and personal growth.

Trying something new

Another important transition move in Rueda de Casino (Cuban group dance), which usually follows “Dile due no” is called “Dame”. When the caller shouts “Dame” this provides the signal to all the leaders in the circle to advance to the next partner. It doesn’t matter how good two partners dance together. In a few moments they will be dancing with someone else. There is a continuous flow where everyone gets the opportunity to dance with everyone else in the group. This strengthens the cohesion of the group while everyone keeps adapting to each other, similarly to the adaptive triads.

I find this continuous rotation of partners incredibly exciting. No-one has enough time to feel comfortable or complacent with anyone else, as every interaction is temporary. This keeps the mind always curious and active, as everyone learns from each other.

Similarly to the continuous rotation of partners in Rueda de Casino, we can develop weak social ties with a large number of people without investing too much time and energy. This is a mind-shift from the individual to the group that can open up a world of opportunities.

Yet, many times we find ourselves stuck in the same routines with the same people, normalising uncomfortable situations. This is like dancing with a clumsy partner over and over again just because we got used to it.

We like having strong ties with a small circle of people. But strangely enough this does not offer many new opportunities to develop and see beyond our horizon. There are so many fascinating people out there. All we need to do is use the liberating power of saying no and open ourselves up to new people.

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