Saying ‘yes’ when you mean ‘no’ is a boundary issue.

Some boundaries can be easily recognized, other boundaries can be stealth…. Those recognized and those that are stealth differ for everyone based on past experiences, unconscious bias, limited beliefs etc. A common boundary issue I see plays out like this:

  • You are overwhelmed with demands that are made on you which have nothing to do with your job.
  • People are disrespectful of your time, your work, and of YOU!
  • You do things for people you hardly know at the expense of your family or friends and your own mental and physical well-being.

Protect Your Yes.

To master your “No” you must first know your “Yes.”  Your “yes(s)” are those people, places, and things that are important enough to you that you want to share your most limited resource with them – your time! Too often we put what and who is most important to us last — because we rationalize that “they will understand.’  This was happening to Fran.* Fran asked me what to do about Sue*, a coworker. Sue is a “nice person,” according to Fran but she is perpetually late with projects and excels at making her tardiness Fran’s emergency.

Fran wanted me to help change Sue’s behavior… and she was disappointed to discover that rarely works, and not the problem. The real problem is Fran has trained Sue that she will bail her out at the last minute – every time.  Fran and I worked on a script that she recently used with Sue – several times. (Sometimes, it takes time to “un-train” them.)

To politely prioritize her “yes” Fran says with a smile: “I understand your dilemma Sue, and I already have commitments to other team members / clients / a volunteer organization …. I’m sure you can see how doing your work wouldn’t be fair to them. It’s important that we all follow through on what we promised to do, isn’t it?  All the best with your project.”

Now, I know that sounds a bit contrived, a script is always just for practice. It will sound different each time, and you will develop your own style. The main concepts are to acknowledge that you listened to them and that you have other commitments that require and/or already have your ‘yes.’

Fran recently mentioned that Sue is still always in a last-minute-panic, but it’s no longer Fran’s responsibility to save her and Sue is learning new skills of organization and time management (whether she really wanted to or not… but that wasn’t our problem—was it?)

What has not knowing how to say “NO” cost you…?


*Names chosen to protect confidentially and are not their real names