GYLB – #3 Learn to say NO!

The answer's yes, now what's the question?

“The answer is YES now what is the question”. This could be the mantra for 21st century customer service and from the point of view of the customer it’s a pretty good one at that. This mentality is also becoming more prevalent in the workplace too: if somebody asks us to do something we grudgingly accept the task like a donkey shaking it’s head as another plank is added to it’s already creaking burden. One simple “yes” that takes a split second to say can cause us hours or even days of aggravation further down the line.

Before we examine the reasons for this let’s look at the two very different sides of the “always say yes” coin.

On the positive side being seen as a reliable yes-person who will take ownership of  anything thrown at them has got to be a career-positive thing. Who wouldn’t want people around them who say yes all the time – wicked! Also working flat-out can be addictive for a while but like most drugs that addiction is bound to become destructive in the end.

On the negative side taking on too much means we will almost certainly under-perform by missing deadlines or quality standards. Added to this our personal stress levels will be higher than the bar staff in the student union bar – not so wicked.

But the worse thing is that we lose control over our lives. We have to work long hours to get everything done and when we’re not working we’re either thinking about work or, worse still, worrying about it. If you are cool with this then don’t waste any more time reading on (here’s a tip: read on).

Career LadderOK, I admit when we start out in our career we have to put ourselves out there: work longer hours and be seen as a can-do person but if this overzealous business adolescence leads into a similarly frenetic adulthood I think it is worth taking stock. Successful people tend to work smarter not harder.

Like most things it really is all about balance. We should only take on those things that we can comfortably handle 80% of the time – we all have to put a bit of extra effort in from time to time. This is not the problem; the real issue is when working over our capacity becomes the norm. A very destructive scene indeed.

So why do we say yes too often? Well for all sorts of reasons but the four biggest ones are: –

  1. If we refuse we feel it will harm our career prospects or offend people
  2. We have some sort of personal ego thing going on where we feel we should be able to do everything
  3. We have no accurate idea of what we have already committed to
  4. Habit

Let’s look at these in a bit more detail. If we work in an environment where we are expected to continually work excessive hours and saying no is career destructive I suggest that we would be better off with another employer or in another career. Worse still, if we do carry on in our corporate sweat-box we are bound to under-deliver which happens to be even more career-delimiting than saying no. Take no truck with this argument at all!

We can’t do everything and neither should we try. Get over it!

We look at the whole planning piece in the last of the series but remember this. Most bad decisions and pretty much all stress happens because people are out of control. Having a personal development tool (Outlook is more than adequate) which enables us to estimate required resources to undertake any task or responsibility we take on and the ability to reserve time in our calendars to undertake specific tasks will help us stay in control. This is not hard at all when you get the hang of it.

Habits are only broken when a) we are aware that the habit exists, b) we consciously take steps to break the habit and c) we monitor our progress having established a new, and more suitable, habit. It also helps if we can change alongside somebody else who feels the same as we do.

All well and good but what about saying “no”. Here are some approaches you may like to consider: –

  • “I would love to take it on but which of these projects (showing your well maintained Outlook plan) would you like me to put back?”
  • An alternative way of saying the same thing “Can you help me to plan out my workload. I am running over capacity at the moment (again you need proof of this) and if I take this on I need to know what I can let slip.”
  • “That is a great opportunity but if I take it on I will not be able to give it the time and resources necessary to produce good work and as I do not like to under-perform it might be an idea to ask somebody else.”
  • “I don’t think I am best suited to do that task. My skill sets lie elsewhere and I would not be able to produce the level of work that you require.”
  • “Take you silly-assed problem down the hall matey”. Upon reflection use this one with care 🙂

Just Say NoSo to round off. If you say yes all the time you are simply storing up future problems for yourself. Get control of your tasks and responsibilities so that you know what your available capacity is. Don’t be afraid to push back when asked to over-commit as you have seen you don’t have to say “no” to say “no”.

Oh, and one last thing. This counts for your personal life too. Saying yes to some kind of social thing that you know you won’t enjoy is not a good idea. Be kind, be thoughtful but above all be honest.

Image credits:

1st Image – Image courtesy of Stuart Miles /

2nd Image – Image courtesy of Renjith Krishnan /

3rd Image – Image courtesy of Stuart Miles / FreeDigitalPhotos,net

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Passionate about making business development a profession not just a job. Built and sold a £40m group in less than 9 years. Doing it all again and loving it!

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Posted in Get Your Life Back, Lifestyle
One comment on “GYLB – #3 Learn to say NO!
  1. Kay Sefton says:

    Hi Mike, you have no idea how welcome this topic is for me …. are you psychic? Kay.

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Mike Ames

Passionate about making business development a profession not just a job. Built and sold a £40m group in less than 9 years. Doing it all again and loving it!

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