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It’s okay to say ‘no’

At R&R we’re always searching for what’s happening in workplaces that can insidiously, negatively affect employee performance and well-being. 

Never saying ‘no’ has jumped forward as a topic well worth addressing.

It seems part of the human condition to want to please others, to not want to let people down, to want everyone to think that we’re great. And we certainly don’t want anyone to think that we don’t like them. 

So we keep saying ‘yes,’ when the better answer, or the answer we’d rather give is ‘no.’

In a recent Self Care webinar, one courageous person, when asked how they’re travelling, surprised fellow Senior Leaders by delivering a powerful, tearful narrative around how ‘being the go to person all the time, the one that always says yes,’ has slowly decayed their productivity, their passion and above all else, their physical and emotional well-being.

It was a humbling display of vulnerability – it was their opportunity to drop the mask and let people actually see them. They took their chance, sharing how much being ‘a yes person’ had slowly affected their sleep, their relationship with their partner, and had smashed their desire to look after themselves. They were completely worn down by always saying ‘yes I can do that for you.’

Their fellow leaders listened intently, they nodded, they looked to the ceiling. 

But most of all, they couldn’t believe what they were hearing. 

‘But you always seem so happy.’ One said.

‘I’d never have guessed that you were feeling like this.’ Said another.

‘I’m really sorry, because as you know, I lean on you and your team all the time.’

What we’re talking about here is the insidious, negative effect that always saying ‘yes’ can have on our relationships, our work performance, and our well-being.

So there’s two sides to getting this story right:

  1. As the asker, be mindful enough to ask if they really can, or really want to:

When we give a direction at work, we make sure that the person or people actually do have the time, the skills and all they need to complete the task as assigned.

‘Are you sure you can get this project done by Friday?’

‘Please don’t say yes if you think you’ll actually need more time?

‘Just remember, I’d rather you say that you need more time or help, than just say yes, then immediately wish you didn’t.’ 

When we ask a partner or friend if they’d like to do something social, we can make sure they’re truly up for it.

‘Now, are you sure you want to go to that party?’

‘We don’t have to say yes to going on the weekend, you know that don’t you?’

  1. As the receiver, dare to practice different ways of saying ‘no.’

‘Yes I can do that, but only if I shift a few other things around.’

‘No, I’ve actually got too much on my plate to get that done by Friday, so can you give me till the Friday after?’

‘I could get that task done by then, but I’m going to need a bit of assistance.’

‘I’m not sure I understand what you’ve asked me to do, or whether I’ve actually got the skills to do it, so can you or someone else please help me a bit?

‘Please, it’s been a massive week. Do you mind if we don’t go out tomorrow night?’

So, in pursuit of creative, dynamic relationships at work and at home, start to practice saying ‘no.’

Rest assured that saying ‘no,’ isn’t an exercise in letting yourself or others down. Occasionally saying ‘no’ can actually decrease any overwhelm and anxiety you endure, bring out your best work performance, and provide important space for honest, dynamic relationships..

That can only be a good thing, can’t it? 

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