Say yes to everything? You should seriously stop.

Why we need to thank people for saying NO as well as YES

At certain times in your career, saying yes can be advantageous.  It can expose you to new experience, open new doors. But saying yes to everything can also be hugely disadvantageous.

Too many people I work with find themselves saying yes to things that mean that they become unfocused, overwhelmed, unproductive and resentful. So often the culture of many work places means that it is a given that you will take on too much and that those who protect their boundaries and say no to certain tasks or undertakings, are seen as negative and unreliable.  More generally, British society expects us to say yes if we want to be liked and saying no risks offending and upsetting. 

Do you find yourself saying yes to taking on extra work or helping others out with their work when you really want to say no?

It’s not easy saying no.  There are a host of reasons why we struggle.

You might not like to let people down.

You might like to please or impress people.

Your line manager or boss may be difficult to say no to.

You may worry about who is going to do the work if you don’t – your colleagues or team are already overworked.

Saying no to clients, even if it’s extra work or unreasonable, can risk upsetting them.

Sometimes it’s easier to say yes and do the work than say no and delegate.

Saying no feels like a rejection to many and none of us like to feel rejected. 

I’m clearly not suggesting you say no to everything.  So how will you know if saying no is appropriate?

  • Consider your role and the responsibilities you have.  Yes, sometimes you need to do things outside of this, as there needs to be some goodwill. However, if you find that you are frequently working outside of your job role and trying to do your job too, you will become overwhelmed.  You will not be able to successful achieve what you need to.  You will probably become pretty distracted and not be able to.
  • Ask yourself if doing this will move you closer to achieving your goals.
  • Ask yourself why you are saying yes. Are you doing it because it will move your work on, contribute to the general aim, add value and because no-one else can, or are you doing it because you feel bad about letting people down, or think it’s quicker for you to do it than someone else and the work will be better?
  • Ask why you can’t say no. Are you concerned about upsetting or disappointing the person asking? Are you worried about their reaction if you say no? Do you think it will be quicker to just say yes and do it than face the potential negative atmosphere if you say no?
  • Are you just saying yes because that’s what you do and it has become a habit and you are seen as the person who never turns anything down?
  • Instead of asking yourself “can I do this?”, ask yourself “should I do this?”
  • Are you saying yes because it’s within your comfort zone and feels easier to do than some of the things you perhaps should be doing in your position?
  • Are you doing this because you always take the role of rescuer? If so, consider the impact of this on you and others.

The benefits to saying no?

Again, I am not suggesting you become someone who says no to everything.  There has to be a balance. Once you challenge yourself to say no to certain requests, you will start noticing the benefits.

  • Many people will respect your ability to say no and will appreciate the fact that you are setting an example, especially in a workplace where saying no is not encouraged.
  • You will find you have more time to do the things that you are meant to be doing eg more strategic planning if you are in a senior position.
  • Your team will thank you as you delegate more, demonstrating trust in their abilities and helping them develop professionally.
  • You will feel more in control, less put upon and clearer about what you really should be doing.
  • You will become more confident in your role and see yourself develop professionally.

Is there another way of saying no?

Not many people enjoy saying or hearing the word no.  So are there other ways of saying it?

If you’re being asked to take on an extra project at work which you know you realistically don’t have time to do or that really someone else should be doing it, try explaining why.  Words like “I’m not able to do that now because I already am feeling stretched and worry I won’t be able to do the work to a sufficiently high standard” or if you do have some capacity but not enough, you could say that you won’t be able to do the whole project, but that you are able to take on some aspects. 

If a client is asking for a meeting this week when you already have one scheduled for the following week (let’s face it, some people love meetings) and you know that time would be better spent working on the project, it is ok to say something like “I really want to focus on getting the work right, would you be happy for me to bring this to our meeting next week?”.  So you’re not hitting anyone with the no word, but you are being clear to them about your boundaries and what you can and can’t do.

If you are a people pleaser, it will be a big change for you and may take a fair amount of effort to start reducing your use of the word yes. It can help to set yourself goals and take it step by step.  For example, decide that when someone asks you to do something, take a few moments to consider whether this is an opportunity to practise saying no.  This may be all you can do for a few times.  Next would be to set yourself a rule around saying no,  There may be someone in particular who often makes you feel overwhelmed.  You could try pushing back with them and see how it feels.  

Slowly you will start feeling pretty liberated!

I challenge you to give it a go and start noticing the difference.