Nov 012011

mature business man with thumb upEver said yes to a request, a project, a role, a job, an opportunity, or other responsibility and then regretted it?

I’ve been hearing a lot from people lately who are in situations where they say yes when they mean no for one of the following reasons:

“I don’t want to disappoint.”

“If I don’t do it, who will?”

“Because I can…and someone else might not.”

“They asked me and I just didn’t feel I could say no.”

“I’ve always said yes in the past.”

“I don’t want anyone to think I’m not doing my part.”

“I should be grateful.”

“If I say no, I could lose my job.”

Sound familiar? We all do this sometimes. Some of us do it A LOT. Sometimes we say yes to things that are outside of our responsibility. Sometimes we say yes to things that are outside of our ability. Sometimes we say yes even when we know we don’t have the time or knowledge to follow through. We get in the habit of saying yes and as you probably know, old habits are hard to break.

This bad habit gets in the way of productivity and effectiveness.

When we say yes, and we mean no, we set ourselves and/or our business up:

  • To disappoint
  • To be incapable
  • To not get the job done
  • To be stressed and overwhelmed
  • To become resentful
  • To drain our energy from other more important projects
  • To prevent those who do have the skills, tools, knowledge, time and desire to do a better job than we might have done

And sometimes, as a result people do lose their jobs. Ironic, isn’t it? By saying yes when we mean no, we set up the very things we are trying to avoid by saying yes. That’s the misguided yes.

Your True Yes, on the other hand, has incredible creative power. The power of a True Yes is that it creates flow. Your True Yes invites in people and unforeseen opportunities. When things are slow and I want them to pick up, I will often start saying yes to everything (that isn’t a clear no) and see where and to whom it leads me. True yes never comes from “have to” or “should.”

True Yes Comes from knowing that you have:

  • The Ability
  • The Time
  • The Responsibility
  • The Desire
  • The Ability to say No.

To have a True Yes, you must be able to give your Generous No. You must be in active choice. (For more on this, see last week’s Inspired to Succeed, below.)

Here’s what to watch out for:

When you have the responsibility without the desire. Got procrastination? Ask yourself how it might become possible to say no, what conditions can you create that will still maintain your integrity to your responsibility? How might you engage others in finding creative solutions? What can you delegate? What can you hire out? Just because you have responsibility for something does not mean you have to do it personally.

When you have the desire but don’t have the responsibility. Are you in danger of overstepping your bounds? Are you taking on responsibilities that belong to others, depriving them of the experience, the satisfaction, the growth, and better solutions than you might have provided?

When you don’t have the time, you always have the power to negotiate. Can you buy time? Can you prioritize differently? First you have to create the habit of knowing that you haven’t got the time!

To get out of that obligatory resentment-laden yes, come clean…as early as possible. Take responsibility for having said Yes when you meant No. Be collaborative. Yes doesn’t have to mean going it alone. We forget that as leader we are still part of the team.

Finally, don’t forget that others lack a Generous No and a True Yes. How many times have you seen all that we’ve just been exploring in others? Watch for the signs and don’t be blindsided by it!

Hope this gets you thinking in new ways about your approach to everything. Next time, we’ll talk about the power of having a policy of openness.

Until then…

About the Author:
Sharon Rich works with business leaders (and aspiring leaders) who are smart, successful and frustrated. What used to work for them and their firms is no longer working. They keep pushing forward but aren’t getting the results they want and need. They feel ineffective and they may be suffering a crisis of confidence as a result. She partners with them to create fresh strategies that produce more effective outcomes. To get a complimentary copy of the Leadership Incorporated Special Report: 11 Things Smart Leaders Do to Waste Their Company’s Money and Lose the Respect of Their People, email

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