“Yes.” “Sure.” “No problem.” The words are out of your mouth before the reality or the enormity of the commitment you make registers. You realize too late that you don’t want or don’t have the time to do what you’ve taken on. You neither wish to babysit a friend or sibling’s difficult or delightful children, nor do you have time to walk someone’s pesky dog. You wonder how you got roped into an extra office assignment or the arrangements for a coworker’s farewell party. How does this happen to me so often? you ask. If you’re not wondering, maybe you should.
When you were two years old, you had little difficulty shouting, “No!” but slowly the word no was drilled out of you. The more you said no, the angrier your parents got. Your teachers found no unacceptable. If you said no when you were older, you were afraid of losing a parent or friend’s loyalty or love. No doubt, some of that apprehension has carried over into your adult life.
The word you repeated without the slightest hesitation at age two is problematical, if not impossible, in many of your interactions today. Most people have been programmed to think no carries a strong backlash. As you will find out, the risks of refusing are not as scary or damaging as you believe. In fact, the damage done by saying yes indiscriminately affects you much more than your refusals affect the people you turn down.
Yes-people become weighed down, feel torn, trapped, or taken advantage of, and as a result are unhappy or annoyed with themselves for being easy marks…
From Part 1 With Friends
When No Is Crystal Clear
Ever wonder why people gravitate to you when they need something done? Is it because you do so many things well or because you appear to have the time? More likely it’s because they know they can count on you to say yes, to go out of your way to please them even when it means squeezing the task in, rushing other things, or skipping something you might have scheduled or wanted to do.
Being a chronic yes-person wins only modest, temporary accolades and sometimes little praise. People who expect you to be there for them often forget to be appreciative and begin to take you for granted. The encounters and dilemmas in the scenarios that follow will help you discriminate between what is a real need and what is only presented as such and help you determine how you can be useful without being overly involved.
“We’ve waited this long, let’s give Mary Kay another five minutes.”
What’s going on here: Mary Kay is one of those people who can be counted on to be late. Even when you build a cushion into a meeting time, it’s never long enough. You can be accommodating to a point, but when someone’s tardiness eats into your time, makes you nervous, or ruins your fun, it’s time to stop tolerating the brash inconsideration. Apparently, Mary Kay doesn’t respect or value your time. And by being late, she’s controlling you.
Response: “No. I’m not waiting anymore.”
Alert: Don’t allow others to disrespect or abuse your time.
From Part 2 All in the Family
“I need you to help your father.”
What’s going on here: Your parent thinks you are still twelve years old and she can tell you what to do and you’ll do it.
Response: “I’d love to help Dad out, but I can’t do what you’re asking.”
Alert: Be careful not to revert back to your dutiful son or submissive daughter role. Be helpful when you can, but be sure the circumstances fit your schedule and willingness or you will be irritated by most things a parent asks of you.
“Can I rake the leaves later, Dad?” Substitute most anything you ask your children to do: clean their rooms, set the table, do the dishes, sweep the porch, mow the lawn, pull the weeds, water the garden, take out the garbage. The operative word here is later.
What’s going on here: Asking for a postponement is a stall. Your child hopes you forget about the chore, or better yet get aggravated and do it yourself. He’s banking on one or the other happening, and in a busy parent’s life your child comes out the winner if you agree to any form of procrastination.
Alert: Children are specialists in avoiding tasks that smack of work. Have them do it when asked, no negotiation.
From Part 3 At Work
The boss requests the year-end analysis. “Can you have it to me by Friday?”
What’s going on here: You’ve known the due date for months, but haven’t worked on it because he’s given you other more pressing assignments. The boss knows you’re not a slacker; if you could work up what he needs by Friday, you would. Promise the year-end analysis for Friday and be up all night for the next few nights. It’s more wise to be straightforward and see what the boss wants you to do.
Response: “No, I won’t have it ready. I need an extension.”
Alert: Making promises you can’t fulfill makes you look incompetent. Keep your boss informed when new projects interfere with or will slow down others. Negotiate a new due date.
“We’re having a baby shower for Ellen the last Saturday of this month. You’ll be there, yes?”
What’s going on here: Between work-related weddings, birthdays, dinners, Friday night beers, and weekend parties you could virtually wipe personal friends out of your life. If you say yes to one office-related invitation, are you obligated to the others? How do you draw the line without offending someone?
Response: “I can’t be there, but I want to chip in on the gift.”
Alert: Figure out which people are key to your position and which people you classify as friends to help you decide the festivities you must attend.
From Part 4 Really Difficult People
Saying no is daunting no matter who is asking, demanding, or badgering you. What’s disconcerting is the fact that in many instances you can be more successful saying no to your boss or a meddlesome parent than to the person you hired to build a deck or color your hair—and hardly know. People whose job it is to sell their wares, close deals, or sign you up for a subscription come across as sure of themselves, so right or self-righteous that you become putty in their hands. Other times, their tenacity wears you down. Not every sales or service person is out to get you, but many are.
“It’s ideal, just what you were looking for: enough bedrooms, good schools, large front and backyards. You can’t let this house slip away,” the realtor urges.
What’s going on here: You’ve been house hunting for months. The agent wants to make a sale, and you want to find your dream house. This one isn’t it, but it’s close and very tempting. You flip-flop between compromising (you’ll live with less closet space and spend the money to renovate the kitchen) and thinking you’re being too picky. Maybe what you want just doesn’t exist. You’re relying on her experience and knowledge of the area. You could be swayed, especially when she informs you someone else has made an offer. You’re also concerned that the realtor thinks you are being difficult.
Response: “Let’s keep looking.”
Alert: Don’t worry about what the real estate agent thinks or be strong-armed by the pressure of another offer, and don’t settle. You’ll know when you find what you want and will happily make concessions.