Saying “no” doesn’t mean you don’t care

“One of the most painfully inauthentic ways we show up in our lives sometimes is saying “yes” when we mean “no,” and saying “no” when we mean “hell yes.””
Brené Brown

As someone who loves to please others, I often find that I end up with a calendar that looks like someone is very good at playing tetris, with meetings and demonstrations and training as the blocks and my days fill up dramatically to the point where finding white space or even a lunch break is difficult to do. Sound familiar?

Let me be clear, saying “yes” is one of the most powerful statements you have to offer – it is a clear indication that you want to help someone, or that you care about what they are doing. Yes is a profoundly positive and exciting word.

But what happens when you say yes one too many times?

  • Meetings start to pile up meeting you are running from one to the other and not getting time to focus on your core responsibilities
  • Meetings start eating into your personal time “oh I was hoping to leave at X o’clock but I can probably push that a bit”… an hour… two hours…etc.
  • The quality of your work slips because you’re balancing too many plates and only able to give an ever decreasing % of your time to individual tasks
  • Conflicts occur more easily when people book in follow up meetings at the same times as other meetings you’ve said yes to
  • People’s expectation of you shifts – not knowing that you are overburdened they expect you to thrive on that sort of “busy” and will continue to come to you with requirements

The negative ramifications of saying yes can be many, which leaves us in a fundamentally twisted catch-22, where what is supposed to be your most positive word can actually harm your work, your personal relationships and even your mental health.

Now I’m not saying that you should be asserting “no” to everything someone asks, it is very much a case of how you communicate. Communication is the best way of handling these sorts of situations because, and you may forget this often (but it’s worth reminding yourself) – people are just that, people.

No one is going to fly off the handle if you tell them “I can appreciate your situation and I understand why you require me for this, however I’m currently at capacity and my current priorities are dealing with X and Y instead.” There is nothing stopping you from also suggesting other avenues they may be able to go down, or other people they may be able to speak to, to help them with their problem/meeting etc.

One of my favorite phrases in the world is “When you walk a mile in someone else’s shoes” (then you’re a mile away and you have their shoes! haha) but the key is not trying to do the same job or answer the same queries as someone, it’s merely empathizing with them and seeing it from their perspective. So when you are struggling with workload, look for proactive solutions to help, but don’t feel you have to put yourself in harms way to do so.

Conversely, if you work with someone who is constantly overburdened or chasing their own tail – consider, what can you do to help them? If you have additional overhead, be proactive and see if there’s anything you can do to share problems or thoughts.

A phrase I always hear when working with people to implement DevOps processes for their databases is “I simply don’t have time for this at the moment.“, despite the fact that the very solutions we’re discussing – whether they are related to tooling or processes– will save them time and help them get a handle on their current and future workloads. In many situations, this can be simply addressed by breaking down some of the silos they’re experiencing in their company, and asking for help.

The top 3 tips I can offer to people who are afraid of saying no, or who flat out refuse to do so are this:

  1. Communicate. Tell people you feel overwhelmed, help them understand why your current load is too much so they understand what you’re up against.
  2. Ask for help. Many consider this to be a sign of weakness, but the most successful people aren’t the one’s who just do everything by themselves, they are the ones who know how to tap into the empathy, expertise and knowledge of those around them.
  3. Manage your time better. Revisit your priority list and identify what you can delegate, or ask for help on. Make time for yourself to catch up, to do admin work or to blog, for instance! Definitely make sure you take time for things (even block them out in your calendar provisionally) like lunches and leaving on time because allowing your brain to break away from the constant pace of everyday life when it’s not overwhelmed inspires creativity and problem solving, and will actually better prepare you for the challenges ahead.

So no. Saying “no” does not mean you don’t care, in fact it means the opposite, you do care – but you’re prioritizing, doing your best to ensure the demands of the job are met, but most importantly you’re putting your own health first.

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