When No means Yes

There’s only one scenario in life where No means Yes.

I’ve difficulty saying ‘No’. A lot of the time … with a lot of people. No doubt, there’s people out there who know me that might disagree vigorously with this self-assessment, but generally, it’s true.

About 5 years ago it got so bad I was assigned an executive coach at work. Elspeth, my coach, was a very nice lady; Scottish, gentle-mannered, soft-spoken and her version of turning people down was friendly but firm. Nothing harsh or confrontational about it.

As part of our work, Elspeth examined strings of work emails I’d written where in them I was quite certain my ‘No, I cannot help with this project,” was clear. But inevitably the recipients of my No’s would push back harder in their replies and more often than not, I’d cave under pressure.

With a sigh and an “Oh, alright then!”, I’d be back in martyr territory.

The emotional labour of sticking to my No’s, was harder than simply working harder or faster or later into the night to get done what others wanted of me.

After printing off and reading some of these email exchanges with colleagues, Elspeth handed them back to me with underlined phrases and circled sections.

“Your No’s behave like Yes’s,” she said. “You explain why you can’t help and then you proceed to start helping the person anyway … walking them through what you’d do if you were them, solving half the problem as you go along. When you do this, your ‘No’ gets lost in that helpfulness and the person receiving it knows you are the person that’ll help — if they push harder, you will complete the job you’ve already started.”

Learning how to say No without apologising profusely or trying to solve the problem first isn’t something I’ve mastered, but I’ve got a lot more practice under my belt since my sessions with Elspeth.

Time management gurus like Stephen Covey point out that No is the only way to say Yes to other, more important commitments. Like when you say Yes to a last minute request and miss your friend’s birthday as a result. In this way No is the only way to leave enough of ourselves for life’s most important Yes’s.

More on this tomorrow …

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5 thoughts on “When No means Yes

  1. As my hero Brene Brown says “Choose discomfort over resentment…Choose discomfort over resentment…choose discomfort over resentment…” (There is something about saying it three times that seems to do the trick). The great part of it is, once you change your reputation of being a “Yes” person, people stop asking…. I am a reformed Yes person and I can say as I look back on it, people do not ask too much of me anymore…heres hoping…

    1. Like tapping ruby slippers three times to get home? I have Brene’s latest book on my kindle — I take it I should read it?!

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