Stop Saying “Yes” When You Really Want to Say “No”

Everywhere I go and speak, people talk to me about their schedules. They tell me they’ve never been busier. They’re overwhelmed and out of balance.

Part of the problem is caused by their inability to say “No.” When people ask them to do something, even things they don’t want to do or have time to do, they say “Yes.” They seem incapable of refusing other people’s requests.

That’s unfortunate. Without the ability to say “No,” you end up living someone else’s life instead of your own.

The first step in becoming more effective at saying “no” is to recognize your “yes” triggers. In other words, you’ve got to know when you’re tempted to say “yes” … or do say “yes” … when you really want to say “no.” You’ve got to know your triggers so you can catch yourself before you open your mouth and agree to something.

Here are the triggers that trip up most people. Which ones do you identify with?

►1. The fear of damaging a relationship

You may think, “If I say ‘no,’ I’m rejecting my friend.”

Not at all. Refusing someone’s request doesn’t mean that you reject her. It doesn’t mean that you’re selfish or uncaring. It simply means you cannot or will not do what she is asking you to do. It means you’re putting some limits on your time.

If you’re afraid that your refusal will be interpreted as rejection, explain your refusal. Tell the other person that it is a statement about your boundaries. It is not a statement about the importance of your relationship.

Of course, when you say “no” to someone’s request, they won’t like it. But if you say “no” appropriately, you won’t necessarily hurt the relationship. In fact, you may even get more of their respect because of your directness and honesty and you’ll certainly respect yourself for setting boundaries that are right for you.

In next week’s Tuesday Tip, I’ll show you how to say “no” most effectively.

►2. The fear of closing the door on future opportunities

You may think, “If I say ‘no,’ the other person will never ask me again. And I want the other person to ask in the future.”

For example, you may want your boss to ask you about taking on a more responsible position in the company, but at this particular time, you just can’t do what he is asking. So tell him you would like him to ask again. Give a short explanation as to why you’re refusing this time, and make it clear when you would say “Yes.”

►3. The fear of being seen as uncaring

You may think, “If I really care about the other person, I should agree to the request.

I know this fear ruled my life for a long time because I was raised to always “be nice,” no matter what. I never even thought it was possible to be “nice” and “caring” and still say “no” to some things people were asking me to do.

Then I learned that caring friends do things for each other — but not necessarily everything.

You can express your caring in lots of ways besides saying “Yes” to every request. You may be willing, for example, to spend hours comforting your friend, but you may not be willing to watch her dog or loan her $1000.

It’s like the cartoon I saw a while ago. A customer was complaining about the service and product he had received and was asking for some compensation. To show his utmost in caring, the customer service agent replied by saying, “We’ll refund your money, give you a free replacement, shoot the manager, and close the store. Would that be satisfactory?”

Obviously it’s an exaggeration, but you get the point. You may be willing to do a number of things for the customer to show that you care, but you don’t have to do everything he wants. If that were the case, you’d probably go out of business. The same principle applies to all your personal relationships.

►4. The fear of creating a scene

You may think “It’s easier to say ‘yes’ than deal with the other person’s reactions if I say ‘no’.”

Of course, it may be easier to say ‘no’ in the short run. But you’ve got to put things in perspective.

Ask yourself these questions. What ‘s the price you pay for saying ‘yes’ when you really want to say ‘no’? How long will you feel uncomfortable if you say ‘no’? Five minutes? Ten minutes? An hour? A day? Compare that to how much time and energy you’ll spend granting the other person’s request.

And consider how long you’ll resent the fact you said “yes.” Sometimes you exchange a five-minute period of discomfort for a two-week commitment and a year of resentment. It’s not a good trade for you or anyone else.

►5. The fear that you don’t have the right to say “no”

There’s an awful lot of talk about “rights” these days, but there’s almost no talk about “responsibilities.” I see people in the streets, on the news, and in the social media demanding their “rights,” but I don’t see anyone in the streets saying “It’s my responsibility.” Quite honestly, I’m sick of it.

When it comes to saying “no,” you have both rights and responsibilities. You have the right to say “no” when someone asks you to do something that does not fit with your values. You have the right to say “no” when someone is asking for your time, money, or energy that you have prioritized to be spent somewhere else.

But you also have the responsibility of protecting your own boundaries. That’s not somebody else’s job. You must learn how to respond to unacceptable requests with a clear, firm, fair, and honest “no.” I’ll teach you more about that in next week’s Tuesday Tip.