You envy how easy it is for a successful colleague to say “No.” It’s never been so simple for you. That’s why you end up wasting countless hours doing things that wreak havoc on your time, your well-being, and your long-term success.
But the problem isn’t that you can’t say “No” – it’s that you say “Yes” too reflexively!
Bemoaning your inability to say “No” traps you in a vicious cycle that makes you feel like a doormat. Learn your non-negotiables, and then set boundaries that create space between what you’re asked to do and what you’re willing to do. That way, you can happily say “Yes” to things that enrich your life.
Past experience can make it easy or difficult to set your own non-negotiable boundaries. Use these guideposts to identify and create the flexible boundaries that will let you say “Yes” to the right things in life.
Unease Signifies a Boundary
You know what your boundaries are. You just ignore the clues. Those tension headaches you always get after a jam-packed day of meetings? You’ve crossed a boundary that relates to taking care of your own well-being. Miss parent-teacher night again because you had one last client email to get out the door? You crossed a boundary by putting work ahead of your kids. Spend the next couple of days noticing when you feel out of sync or uneasy after saying “Yes” to something. It probably means that you’ve crossed a personal boundary. Take note: the unease you feel defines a boundary for you.
Knowing What’s Non-Negotiable
Defining a boundary doesn’t mean you can hold it. It simply sets aside the things in your life that are non-negotiable. That may be time with family or carving out open space in your calendar for brainstorming new ideas. Use your non-negotiables to create the boundary lines that will allow you to thoughtfully consider all requests for your time and attention.
Give Them Voice
Once you’ve defined your non-negotiables, they’ll help you finalize the boundaries that will guide your decision-making going forward. An effective boundary must be clear to all. You’re going to have to voice them and tell others what they are. If people don’t know your boundaries, they cannot possibly respect them. Remember that this is about sharing your boundaries, not discussing or debating them. People who want to do that with you are likely to be opportunists (see bullet 5) who don’t respect anyone’s boundaries.
Stay Out of Your Head and Theirs
Kicking the negative self-talk to the curb is absolutely necessary, so stay of your head — and theirs. It’s the only way to keep yourself from becoming enmeshed in your or another person’s emotional “stuff” and saying “Yes” to please or appease. When you do this, you are more capable of making a distinction between what you want and the other person’s aims.
Steer Clear of Known Opportunists
We all know people who take advantage of everyone they know. Avoidance is the best option here. If that isn’t possible, prepare a few different firm and polite variations on the phrase, “Yes, I wish I could help but I don’t have the time right now.” Hold firm against the pushback that will come – remember that you’re saying “yes” to your priorities and that you have valid reasons for all of them.
Success doesn’t come from saying “No.” It comes from saying “Yes” to all the things that fit within your boundaries so that, when opportunity knocks, you can find the time to answer the door.