The Yes-No Trap


One of the biggest diversity issues that comes into play in social housing is what I call the Yes-No Trap.

People have needs and expectations.

Some people identify themselves as tenants with rights, others as customers with “choice”, and some as clients with needs.

When a tenant has a need, and also an expectation that need will be met, we have a problem if that need can’t be met.

For example: If a tenant wants some modifications made in their property but a grant isn’t available or may take many months to some through, you might find yourself in the situation of having to say no.

When someone has need or expectation that they have become identified with, then it becomes one of their diversities, almost as much, for them as being identified as a man, or as French, or as afraid to be alone.

When identification is strong, it becomes wrapped up in identity.

And when you then say “no”, you are denying that person’s identity.

And that’s when the trouble starts.

The secret is not to allow a yes-no polarity to be set up the first place.

A polarity is an either-or situation. Either something is or it isn’t. There’s little or no space inbetween.

It becomes vital to separate off from the yes-no polarity.

I need insulation by the end of August.




I need insulation by the end of August.

The next likely date for a grant to come through would be January.

So, you are saying I can’t have insulation?

I’m saying, and I can show you here on their web site, that budgets are spent for this year and the next budget allocation will be in January.


At no point do you get drawn into the yes-no polarity. You assert what is true, with facts to back you up.

You can be kind and sensitive. You can acknowledge and even name the frustration.

But you don’t get backed into the No corner.

Always state situations clearly and factually, asserting what is, not what isn’t.

Try it.

Should we ever say no?

Yes! Sometimes a no is just what is needed in a particular situation. The word no has a finality about it. It is best said on behalf of a final situation and can actually be releasing at empowering. We can breathe out tension with a real no.

But it should be our default and it shouldn’t be said if it isn’t entirely true. No should never be a move in a verbal chess game. We may say no because that represents the truth of a situation. But I’d suggest those situations are rarer than we suppose.

Say no when:

– the situation truly demands it because the situation is clear from all sides of a conversation or situation and the no is likely to clarify and release tension

– the personality of the tenant seeks a clear yes or no and it’s clear they will take no as a no

Otherwise instead use assertive truth, stating situations in terms of what they are, not what they aren’t.


About Paul Levy

Paul is a writer, thinker, facilitator, theatre-maker, and conversifier. He is the author of the book, Digital Inferno.

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