You Get In Trouble When You Always Say Yes: How to Say No More Often

So often people have difficulty saying “no.” I see it happen in professional (work-related) situations as often as personal (home life) situations. Then, many times, the two blur together and cause problems with one another when work commitments impact family life and/or vice versa.

shutterstock_190033742 Clock FaceWorkers frequently experience burn out. They often blame their employer or their manager, when in reality, the person has to do some soul-searching to determine how they need to behave differently themselves.

In my experience, people have difficulty saying “no” for the following reasons:

  1. They are flattered to have been asked, and therefore feel obligated to take it on (whatever it may be – that special project at the office or the officer of the local PTA)
  2. They don’t want to offend (or hurt the feelings of) the person who asked them by saying no, especially if it’s a manager / executive or family member
  3. They are concerned that they will lose an important opportunity to a competitor (or co-worker)
  4. They don’t feel like they really have a choice in the matter, based on the specific circumstances (ex: who is asking, how it was asked, etc.)

The best solution to all of the situations above is a simple one: WAIT.

Do not rush into giving an answer. Even if the requestor asks for an answer on the spot, you are not obligated to do so. Tell them you need an hour, a day or whatever amount of time fits the appropriate circumstances.

When you wait to respond, buying time buys you even more. It buys you the opportunity to analyze. Think through things like:

  • If you say “yes,” to what else in your life are you saying “no?” Conversely, if you say “no” to this opportunity, to what else in your life are you saying “yes?” Think through it without the pressure of the other person(s) in your face or at the other end of the telephone.
  • Do you have all of the facts you need to make an informed decision? If not, what additional information do you need and how can you acquire it? For example, do you know what the complete time commitment associated with the request will be? Is that feasible for you?
  • What is the worse case scenario if you say “no?” How truly likely is it that the worse case scenario will actually come to pass? Even if that scenario has a high likelihood, is it something you can accept? If so, then it may be worth it.
  • Is it possible to say “not now” instead of an outright “no” and suggest alternative timeframes that work better for you and may still meet the requestor’s needs? If so, what timeframes works better for you and your circumstances?
  • Do you have suggestions on alternative resources who may be available and qualified to meet their needs if you are not able to do so yourself? Most people welcome referrals from trusted sources.

After thinking through all of these things, your answer could be still be “yes” or it could be a very diplomatically delivered “no.” It could be “not now.” But I’m willing to bet that it will not be “yes” as frequently as if you had not WAITED before you provided a response.

Betsy Winkler is Partner at PeopleResults. She can be reached on Twitter @BetsyWinkler1 or on email at Sign up to receive her and her colleagues’ blog at Current.