So before I begin, let’s be clear, I am not going to be talking about saying no to someone in order to reject their advances, that’s an entirely different and difficult subject to take on! Although having said that, saying no in general can often be difficult for people. That instant feeling of regret or concern that you’ve hurt someone’s feelings or ruined your chances for the future can often cripple someone in to always saying yes.

Why Would You Want To Say No?

Er, but why would you always want to say Yes? Do you say yes to everything that comes across your desk at work? Do you have to say yes to all of those things? And once you’ve said yes, do you regret it later? I used to think I needed to say yes to each opportunity that came my way. Even way back at high school if there was an event that needed volunteers, some kind of charity fundraising effort, or just a teacher asking people to help out with something, I would say yes. It just felt like ‘the right thing to do’. You know those kids you went to school with who usually ended up being the spokesperson for a group? That was me. If no one else would step up I would sigh and begrudgingly volunteer.

Moving in to working life, I typically would do the same thing. I would take extra shifts because no one else would pick them up, or I would agree to being part of a project even if I had lots of other work commitments to get through. I would agree to doing upgrades over weekends when I really should have been spending time with family, and drop things last minute with friends because I felt like I couldn’t say no.

Those are all of the times I SHOULD have been saying no. The times when it’s impacting your own free time and you are no longer getting to choose how you spend your nights and weekends because you said Yes to extra stuff. You agree to go places that you would really rather poke your eyes out than go to when the time comes, that’s when you should have said No. If someone else would have done it, and you didn’t actually have to agree to it… yup, you should have said No!

When Saying Yes Makes Sense

So I’m not talking about saying No when your boss asks you to attend a seminar which is related to your role at the organisation, or saying No to doing a product demo when your job is to sell that software. That’s your job, you don’t get to pick and choose which aspects of your day you complete. If it’s in your the specifications for your specific role within the company, it’s not really something you can be selective about.

Likewise if you are just starting out in your chosen career, and attending some social events in the evenings or once every couple of months at the weekend might help you move further a little bit faster, it might make sense to accept some of those opportunities. Maybe the President/CEO of the company asks for your help on something, it’s probably a good idea to say Yes. 😊

However, if all those things start to become regular occurrences, and it’s making things less enjoyable, or you are struggling to complete your responsibilities by the end of each day or week, perhaps it’s time to step back and re-evaluate all you are saying Yes to.

How Do You Say No Without Offending

How DO you say no to your boss? Probably very politely! Seriously though, it’s a strength, to be able to assess your current workload, and what adding more to that pile will do not only to other projects you are working on but your mental and physical health. When I managed a team, I wanted to know if they were struggling. It never made me think they were not good at their job, far from it! Take stock of current projects and what demands each one has, then put forth your case as to what impact taking on something new might have on them. Ask which ones should take priority, and if you say Yes to C, can you drop or reduce your time on A and B. Showing that you understand and appreciate the importance of all the work that you have, but that your to do list might need a reshuffle.

Any good manager who wants their team to succeed will appreciate you highlighting that expectations on your have increased. Likely they will help you step back and evaluate things together. It could be that the last thing you were asked to do was by someone in another department who perhaps should never have asked you in the first place. If you don’t feel comfortable saying no to them directly, having your direct manager be involved should hopefully alleviate part of the stresses that it might have added to you.

Saying No Can Feel So Right

I changed my approach to saying yes about 8 years ago. There was a kind of intervention, where my husband said things needed to change. Not in an, or I’ll divorce you way…. (thank goodness!) but more in the sense that he recognised things were getting out of hand way before I did. I would get in to the office before 7 AM, get home after 7 PM then get right back on to my laptop for fear I would miss something or fall behind on something I had said yes to. I started to adjust things, bit by bit. Going in a bit later, leaving to head home earlier, and leaving my laptop in it’s bag most evenings.

Something in me shifted, and I started to make evenings and weekends a priority for myself and my family, not for work. Sure, things come up and there are scheduled one-off scenarios where you might need to do something at the weekend, but they were typically planned well in advance so I could plan my life around them rather than saying Yes to something like that last minute. Even now, having a Company of One, people assume I am working all hours and jumping on to every possible project. Instead, I work a very sensible 8.30 AM to 5.00 PM each day, with my evening and weekends free from client work. If I write a blog post or create a video, it’s because I want to, not because I’ve said yes to anyone else.

2020, and so far ALL of 2021 has been all about virtual meetings and conferences. I’ve done presentations at events for quite a number of years, which have been enjoyable, but I was starting to get event fatigue even before COVID-19 forced us to readjust. I carried on accepting requests to speak, and then regretted it as the date drew closer. I realised I wasn’t enjoying them, didn’t want to be speaking to an empty ‘online room’ with no feedback, or spend extra time prepping and planning for sessions either. So I started saying no, and other than one major event that happened in February of this year, I am saying no to everything else. No one is ever offended, they can just ask someone else instead. I feel better mentally without extra work added to my free time, and if I want to attend an event to watch other sessions I can do so without any stress put upon myself.

Next time someone asks you for something, stop before saying Yes. Consider if you have to do it, and if you even want to do it. It’s OK to say No, just say it nicely. 😊


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