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You may find it tricky to say “No” to your colleagues, family members, or friends, even when you don’t want to do what is being asked of you. A tendency to say “Yes” can lead to overwork – and, if unchecked, burnout. 

You may genuinely enjoy helping people and find that your skills can be used in a number of different ways to provide value to others. However, when you repeatedly say “Yes” to requests that don’t represent the best use of your talents and/or don’t reflect what you truly want and the kind of leader you want to be, you can end up irritated, stressed, and with a sense of regret. 

With the 24×7 nature of work these days, bombarded all day with demands on your time and attention, it can get to a point where you don’t really even register everything you have said “Yes” to and the implications on your schedule. Or, you may feel that you can’t say “No” to things you would rather not do, exacerbating the problem, and leaving you feeling trapped.

So what can you do?

The typical advice is to just start saying No more –“Be relentless about saying no.” That may work for you. However, for a people pleaser, that strategy typically doesn’t work, as it doesn’t treat the underlying people-pleasing energy, desire, and need. 

What does work? Aligning your strategy with your natural “Yes” energy, rather than denying or resisting it.

How do you do that? Two ways:

1. Say, “Yes, and…” or “Yes, but…” 

You want to be helpful, you really do. AND, something is getting in the way of you doing so, a hurdle to be cleared. Make that hurdle obvious and give the asker a choice of what to do. 

Here’s an example:

A prospective client wants to hire me, but my client slate is currently full. The person is an ideal client who I would like to work with, but saying “Yes” right now will put me over the edge time- and effort-wise, which will detract from my ability to service all of my clients. Rather than saying “No” to working with the new person, I can respond, “I would love to work with you, AND I have a space opening up for you in a month’s time. We can reserve the spot for you now and get you all set up to start our sessions in 30 days. How does that sound?”

OR, “I would love to work with you, BUT I am not able to start with you for 30 days. You have two choices: I can set you up now to start work with me in a month, OR I can refer you to a couple of colleagues who I know are available and would be a great fit as well. What do you prefer?” 

Both of these responses are honest, allow me to still say “Yes” while honoring my boundaries, and put the prospective client in the driver’s seat. 

2. Surface the issue and resolve it with your boss and/or the team

You’re with your boss (and/or your team), who asks you to take yet another thing onto your plate. Your plate is already full! This new activity is going to negatively impact your ability to effectively execute your other priorities.

Rather than struggle silently about it and just commit to working yet another full weekend or late weeknights to get everything done, consider surfacing the issue and having your boss (or team) help solve it.

For example, you could say:

“I appreciate that you want me to tackle this new item. How does this new activity compare with my existing priorities (note: you may need to list them out)? I’m already fully allocated executing on those items. Where does this one fall in the lineup, priority-wise?”

If your boss says it is a top priority or takes precedence, the conversation is not over. Engage your boss (and/or team) to solve the issue that has surfaced as a result of introducing the new priority. Ask something to the effect of, “Okay, I get that this takes precedence. However, making this shuffle has implications; what are the acceptable trade-offs?” This will allow you, together with your boss (and/or team), to co-create an outcome that you both (all) can live with. That may mean extending the deadline for another task, increasing resources to keep everything underway with no delays, deprioritizing an existing task, and/or re-scoping a project down to make it achievable in the time and with the resources available.

As you continue to advance in your career, you will find that you have less and less time to devote to any one activity and that the demands on your time only increase. However, your inclination towards pleasing people doesn’t go away. Rather than deny or resist that aspect of your personality, consider practicing these two strategies. This can help you stay true to who you are while reserving your “Yes” energy to leverage your talents in the best service of yourself, your organization, and your larger community.

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