When "No" means "I used to be a ballroom dancer"

“Would you like …?”
“No.”

Being shot down can be difficult. When you make the effort to offer someone something – a dance, a conversation, a compliment or advice – being told “No” could easily lead you to give up. The sense of failure may even have ripples beyond the immediate moment – a lack of confidence may accompany any future interactions with that individual, or you may be reluctant to return to them. You may never return to them.

Having offered a dance – “May I have the honour…?” – to hundreds if not thousands of individuals in care settings over my years of work with Ladder to the Moon, I’d to like share my reflections on when ‘No’ means ‘No’. Whilst I’d never endorse ignoring anyone’s choice or preferences, if I were to ask a seated resident, “Would you care to dance?” I may hear any of the following in reply:

“No.” (Dance? Are you kidding? I haven’t stood up in months!)
“No.” (What did you say? I better say no just in case)
“No.” (I’m shy, and I’m uncertain what this entails. Pick someone else)
“No.” (I was rather hoping to dance with your colleague over there)
“No.” (I don’t like dancing, never have. Can’t we have a chat instead?)
“No.” (I don’t like dancing, I don’t like you, leave me alone)

It’s not rocket science to realize that only one of those six rejections is a request to be left alone. With a little curiosity, explanation and sensitivity, four of these “rejections” can lead to a dance (a ‘chair-dance’ in the first example, and with a colleague in the fourth) and the fifth to valuable if non-dancing connection.

Linda, a participant on our Outstanding Activities programme, offered James a bow tie: one of the resources from our Icons Photo Shoot box (Linda and James’s home receive a box filled with resources, tips and inspiration every month).

“That’s not a proper bow tie.”

James replied. With the training provided on one of the Outstanding Activities programme’s Development Days, Linda didn’t read this negativity as a “No.” She also didn’t contradict James. She acted with one of Ladder to the Moon’s core creative values: CURIOSITY.

“What is a proper bow tie?”
(One you tie yourself)
“Can you tie a bow tie?”
(I used to all the time)
“Wow. Where…?”

James has been a ballroom dancer. He used to tie his own bow tie and he’d competed at the nearby Maidstone Ballrooms. He’d won medals! James had lived in the home for over 12 months, but hadn’t shared, chosen to share or possibly been invited to share his historical skill and passion for ballroom dancing…

The box, Linda’s use of it, her offer of bow tie and her curiosity in James’s reaction led to the discovery. Of course, this discovery is only the beginning. James has been engaged in new ways, made new offers; and returned to the Ballrooms where he once competed.

“Would you like to wear this bow tie?”
“No.” (That’s not a proper bow tie, I should know: I used to be a ballroom dancer!)