Willing to Hear “No”

Too often we dilute the transformational possibilities of groups by asking too little or expecting too little. A transformational invitation includes cost, and opens the inviter into a vulnerable posture.

An invitation is more than just a request to attend; it is a call to create an alternative future, to join in the possibility we have declared. The question is, “What is the invitation we can make for people to participate in creating a future distinct from the past?”

The distinction here is between invitation and the more typical ways of achieving change: mandate and persuasion. The belief in mandate and persuasion triggers talk about how to change other people and how do we get those people on board, how do we make showing up a requirement, all of which are simply our desire to control others. What is distinct about an invitation is that it can be refused, at no cost to the one refusing.

Genuine invitation changes our relationship with others, for we come to them as an equal. I must be willing to take no for an answer, without resorting to various forms of persuasion. To sell or induce is not operating by invitation. It is using the language of invitation as a subtle form of control.

This rather purist version of invitation is one reason why you cannot judge success by numbers of people or scale. The pressure for scale will distort the integrity of the invitation. [No matter how small the response, a first meeting can be] a beginning and worth the effort… The concern we have about the turnout is simply an expression of our own doubts about the possibility that given a free choice, people will choose to create a future distinct from the past.”*

Look at the list of potential invitees you made, notice your fears. What would it cost you to invite these people and hear a no? We’ll get to the “what” of the invitation soon, but for now consider how you can keep the invite clean— how might I come to these invitees as “an equal.”




*Block, Peter. Community: The Structure of Belonging(p115-117). Berrett-Koehler Publishers.

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