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Are You Tired of Automatically Saying “Yes”?

Seems like everywhere I go, people end up talking about how busy they are.  Having more things to do than can reasonably be done (or done well) has become a dubious badge of honor that many of us put on and don’t know how to take off.  It’s a complex problem with many facets.  Here’s one thing I know. . .

It’s hard to do your best work and live your best life if you automatically say yes to everything that is asked of you. 

Is this you?

Here’s a short list of ways to know if you don’t say “no” often enough. . .

  • You are perennially tired and feel burned out
  • You don’t find time to get regular exercise
  • You make food/eating choices which serve you poorly
  • You don’t sleep well or regularly don’t get enough rest
  • Although you are busy all the time, you don’t usually end up doing things that are on your list of what makes you feel happy or fulfilled
  • You do a lot of things but don’t think you did any of them as well as you could have if you had more time
  • You don’t have time for yourself
  • The people you love the most complain (or perhaps have given up complaining) that you are not emotionally or physically present
  • When you walk through the door, your dog barks at you as though you are a stranger (you get the general idea)

Are you tired enough to try something new?  If yes, the next time someone asks you to take on another task or responsibility at work or in your personal life, consider your options.

9 things you can do if you’re ready to give up on the automatic “yes”

  1. Pause before answering and take at least three deep breaths.
  • Negotiate for the time you need and want to check your schedule and assess your ability to do whatever is being asked of you.
  • Do that!  Check your schedule and check in with yourself about what you are thinking and feeling about taking on whatever has been asked of you.  When I am in this situation, I ask myself whether I can do what has been asked with a “happy heart”, or whether I’m just afraid to say no.
  • Remember that “no” can be a complete sentence.

I suggest spending time with a 2-year-old to remember how this is done.  I have a grandchild who is 2, and he is great with saying “no”.  Spending time with him reminds me that “no” is a complete sentence, and that sometimes it’s enough to start and end right there. Being able to say “no” when we need or want to allows us to establish and maintain boundaries that work for us. 

  • Sort out for yourself what (if anything) is negotiable and what is not.  Consider options that lie between a “yes” or “no” answer.

What changes for you if you think of “yes” or “no” as a continuum of choice instead of either/or options?  Unlike 2-year-olds, we have the ability to see more than black and white choices between an absolute “yes” or an absolute “no”.  Give yourself time to find and see the options.  This is called “finding the yes in the no”.

  • Schedule time with the person who has asked you for a “yes” on something.  Summarize your understanding of what was asked to make sure you and the other person are in the same place on the request.  If not, ask clarifying questions and check out your new understanding until you and the other person agree on the scope of what is being asked of you. Once you are both clear on the request, negotiate the yes, the no, or the yes in the no in whatever way is best for you.  With the yes in the no option, things that sometimes become relevant include. . .
    • Pushing out the timeframe for whatever is being asked of you
    • Pushing out other pieces of work so that what you are now being asked to do can be accomplished sooner
    • Working with someone else to take over other things you are working on which could be done by them while you tackle whatever the new request is
    • Working with someone else to accomplish the new “ask” together
  • Before you talk again with the person who has asked you to do something, consider practicing the conversation you want to have with a friend, “listening buddy” or a coach.
  • Whatever the agreement is that you end up with, summarize it and put it in writing so that you and the other person share a common understanding of what has been decided.
  • Recognize that this process may be uncomfortable for you initially, and you are likely to not do it as well as you might wish.  It’s OK.  Do your best, stay as transparent, authentic and open as possible, be a learner and keep working to develop confidence and competence with this important skill-set.

A final thought

Years ago, a colleague told me that if I was not able to say no when I needed to or wanted to, I would never be able to say yes to anything wholeheartedly.  She was right, and I’ve been working on getting better with this ever since.  Learning never ends. 

And a question

What is your bigger “yes” in life and at work, and what will you do to wholeheartedly honor it?

Ginger Ward-Green

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