The Conversation After “No.”

As assertive servants, we want to have a positive influence on those around us. As purpose-driven people, we want to recruit others to join our efforts. As human beings, we need to ask for help. The ability to influence others is essential for survival, for success and for service.

Influence is built on trust. People are most receptive when they know we aren’t trying to pressure or manipulate them. We must demonstrate that we can gracefully accept an answer of “no.”

Does that mean we have to back off and drop the subject at the first sign of a negative response? No. A respectful attitude can turn a “no” into the beginning of a constructive conversation.

What’s the difference between a positive invitation to service and a pushy attempt to back someone into a corner? Consider the case of Stacy, who is recruiting volunteers to teach Sunday School. She believes that Rebecca is the perfect person to lead the third grade class, but when she asks her, Rebecca says she’s too busy.

Stacy can either respond with her ego or with a servant-like attitude. The ego is focused on getting a predetermined outcome for which it can take credit. The ego would use highhanded pressure tactics to “get” Rebecca to make the “right” decision. A servant would respectfully present an opportunity, knowing that the decision is up to Rebecca and God. Compare the two approaches:

EGO: “Now, Rebecca, your children have been attending Sunday school for years and you’ve never been involved. Besides, think of all the church members who are loyal to your family’s business. It’s high time you started giving back.”

SERVANTHOOD: “Rebecca, you seem to have a real gift for working with children. Your skills would be ideal for the third grade class. If there’s anything I can do to make this workable for you, please let me know.” In the back of her mind, Stacy has ideas for how to help Rebecca free up more time, but she doesn’t mention them now. She wouldn’t want to sound like she’s shooting down Rebecca’s excuses. The two women say goodbye cordially. Stacy makes a mental note to touch bases with Rebecca again in a week or so.

Notice the differences between the ego-driven conversation and the servant-minded one.

Stacy’s ego is narrowly focused on the task of filling the Sunday School roster. She wants the pastor to be impressed when she hands him a full list of names.

Stacy’s servant heart understands that filling the roster is not as important as helping each person follow God’s leading in the use of time and talents. The servant heart is at peace, knowing that it’s God’s job to inspire volunteers to step forward. Stacy’s job is only to offer the invitation. As a servant, Stacy knows she’s a single member of a large team. She’s responsible only for doing her part well. She trusts God and her teammates to take care of the rest.

Stacy wisely chooses the servanthood approach, accepting Rebecca’s answer of no, while offering to do whatever she can to make a “yes” workable. A week later, when she sees Rebecca in church, she greets her with a warm smile and remains silent, letting Rebecca set the tone.

“I’m sorry about the Sunday School job,” Rebecca says. “It’s the sort of thing I would love to do, but I can’t see it working out for my family right now. We have so much going on. I just don’t think I can add one more thing.”

Stacy replies, “I can only imagine what it’s like, with three kids and your full-time job, plus helping with the family business.”

Heartened by Stacy’s understanding tone, Rebecca confides “You should see our Sunday mornings! Getting the kids out the door is like pulling teeth, and then we have a twenty-minute drive to pick up my mom. That’s why we’re late to church so often.”

“You know,” Stacy suggests, “The Nelsons go right past your mom’s place. I’ll bet they’d be willing to pick her up on the way. Do you want me to ask them?”

The following week, the Nelsons bring Rebecca’s mother to church. Rebecca and her family arrive on time, looking more relaxed than usual.

Watching them take their seats, Stacy whispers a prayer of thanks for God’s guidance. She still hasn’t found a third grade Sunday School teacher, but she’s happy to have helped two families make the kind of connection that builds up the community.

By gracefully accepting an answer of “no” and reaching out to help with Rebecca’s burdens, Stacy has established a foundation of trust that will bear fruit for years to come.


  1. shawnelle eliasen says:

    Such wisdom Connie. Thank you.