The Gift of Saying ‘No’

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She was extremely busy, but she always seemed to say ‘yes,’ anyway.

“Yes, I’ll get that report done by the deadline you’ve set.”

“Yes, I’ll put the meeting on my calendar.”

Sometimes she didn’t actually say yes—sometimes she just didn’t reply. To an email from a colleague with a deadline included. To a phone call asking her to write up a report. Her silence was heard as a yes.

The next stage involved people waiting around for her reports, her reply, the other things she had said she would do. These tasks were on top of her main job, which kept her very busy already, so it was unrealistic for her to think that she could accomplish them all.

“I didn’t want to say no, because I felt like I should be able to do it all,” this perfectionist told me. She didn’t even want to ask for a new deadline, because she believed she should be able to carry any load.

People fail to say ‘no,’ or to negotiate for what they really need (in this case, more time, or a less impossible workload) for many different reasons, such as fear of conflict, perfectionism, or a desire to do the right thing, but the results are similar no matter the cause. Others are disappointed, and often put out. Admitting that we can’t do what is being asked of us, or letting a person know that we need to do it at a different pace, is actually a gift. It’s a gift to the person who asks, because it offers clarity. It also means that a mutual agreement has been made, which will likely lead to better results.

For the person who summons the courage to say no, or to negotiate different terms, it may feel hard at first, but after awhile, there will be peace in the knowledge that they are are being true to their own understanding of what they can do. They are freed to concentrate better and work harder at what they really need to be doing right now. They will be able to meet obligations without resentment, and perhaps even with some joy.

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