My clients sometimes lament “I’ve got to learn to say ‘no’ more often.” I catch myself saying “Why did I agree to do this? I should just say ‘no.’” We live in a world where most of us are bombarded with a constant stream of demands on our time. Our jobs, our families, or organizations and people we care about--sometimes it seems like everyone wants a piece of us. And yet we are aware that saying “no” to every request that is made of us is not practical, responsible, or even desirable. Sometimes we WANT to say “yes.” Knowing when and how to say “no” to some of these demands can feel like an overwhelming challenge.
I’m learning to think about this problem in a new way. I have realized that saying “yes” to something really means saying “no” to something else.
Saying “yes” to the boss’s pet project may mean saying “no” to another work project you feel committed to. Agreeing to chair that volunteer committee probably means saying “no” to additional personal or family time. Sometimes the request will offer you a great opportunity, but it will also make significant demands on your time. For example, you might be offered a promotion, but one that will involve significant travel at a time when you really want or need to be home with family. Or you get a chance to take on a project at work that will allow you to gain significant new experience in an area you don’t know much about. But again, it’s important to ask: will saying “yes” to this opportunity require me to say “no” to something—or several somethings—that I value more?
Even when the request is something fun, saying “yes” can mean saying “no.” Saying “yes” to the second girls’ night out invitation this week probably means saying “no” to dinner with your partner. Saying “yes” to a weekend away may mean saying “no” to the rest you need to get through a tough month at work.
So these days, when someone asks me to do something, I try to pause and ask myself: If I say “yes” to this, what will I be saying ‘no’ to doing? Once I answer that question, I’m in a better position to evaluate whether I should say “yes” or “no” or “yes, but only under these conditions.” Next time someone asks for your help pause and think about what you’ll be saying “no” to if you say “yes.”