“The art of leadership is saying no, not saying yes. It is very easy to say yes.” ~ Tony Blair:
We all know and understand that saying “no” can be difficult. Many of us avoid saying no, and consequently say yes at a time when we should say no. So why do we find it hard to say no? We know that we are feeling overwhelmed and stretched beyond our capacity. And we know that we are not the right person for the job, and yet we still say “Yes.”? So why do we find it hard to say no?
There are several reasons why people find it easier to say yes than no. And this is often due to unhelpful beliefs and values about saying no that we have developed from our childhood. These unhelpful beliefs include saying no is rude, saying no is aggressive, saying no is selfish and saying no can decrease our credibility and competence.
Here are eight common unhelpful beliefs about saying no that we have been taught since early childhood:
1. We want to be liked.
Many people think that saying yes will make others like them more. However, if they say no, they will gain trust and respect from others because they show honesty that they cannot comply with the request.
2. We want to be seen as helpful, agreeable, and accommodating.
If you want to be helpful, you will want to say yes to every request. However, you will be more helpful if you say no because you ensure that every task you work on will be of high quality. You know your limitations, so you won’t say yes to everything and risk the quality of your work.
3. We want to please people.
Similarly, with the need to be liked, saying yes will indeed please other people. However, people appreciate you more if you are honest and let them know which tasks and requests you can and cannot commit to completing.
4. We don’t want to upset, offend, or disappoint others.
Many people worry that they have offended or disappointed the other person asking them for a favor if they say no. But if you explain your reason for saying no and discuss it professionally with respect for the other person, you are more likely to gain their trust and confidence.
5. We think if we say no, people will see us as less competent.
This stems from the old belief that saying no means incompetence. You must understand that saying no doesn’t mean you cannot do it or can’t do the request. It can mean you already have a lot on your plate and can no longer commit to another task.
6. We want to portray an image of being enthusiastic and a go-getter.
Saying yes will surely make you the team’s go-getter. But that can quickly be erased when you start to miss deadlines, show poor performance, submit substandard results, and let others down, including yourself.
7. We fear that we will let people down.
It surely feels that you let people down when you say No. But the reality is that you are giving them a better option. You know you are not the best person for the job, so you say no and point them to someone who is more suitable and will provide better results.
8. We fear and avoid conflict.
Saying no often leads to conflict. If you say no with respect, explain your reasoning, and present the person with other available options, they will be grateful and appreciate your honesty.
Saying no is difficult at times, especially if the request comes from a superior. But you want to look at your current workload and assess whether you can commit to another responsibility. You also want to look at yourself and decide whether you still have the physical and mental energy to accomplish the request.
If you want to learn more about saying no and get tips on saying no, I run a workshop on How to Negotiate Saying No.