The Power of No

ICC October 8, 2019 0 Comments

By: Meredith Masse

Are you a “yes” person? You say yes to so many opportunities then suddenly find yourself drowning trying to make good on the promises you’ve made? Has this ever led to conflict between you and your colleagues? Your boss? Those you love in your personal life? I have struggled with saying yes to too much myself. Yet, when I think about it, saying no is merely the practice of setting boundaries on your most precious, finite resources: time and health, both mental and physical.

Terms I’ve used in coaching others as well as myself: Either choose to do it, whatever is at hand, or choose not to do it. The power truly comes when we realize we do have a choice. When you choose the “not to do it” route, do you still struggle with the act of saying no? Maybe these thoughts will help shift your perspective.


Saying no is a healthy way of setting boundaries.

I realize the word boundary can be confounding. It could communicate that you want to keep yourself separated from the rest of the pack. Think about a fence in your backyard. This tangible boundary divides your space from others’. It also signals to people that space is yours. However, conceptual boundaries in life are often tough to “see” and understand. In actuality, they are merely healthy guardrails for navigating relationships, intimate or professional. It’s better than saying yes to too much then being overcome with staggering stress as you work to try to get it all done!


Saying no doesn’t have to be forever.

Does no always mean no for the rest of eternity? Of course not, and it’s important to communicate that. For example, let’s say someone offers you an opportunity to be on a special project team that would mean you can increase your visibility in the company, to develop your leadership skills and – let’s face it – gain great resume content. However, the invitation comes in the midst of your busiest time of the year on top of already having taken on a project your manager has specifically asked you to support. If only the special project team invitation had come at a different time when you’re not already at (or over) capacity! You can simply say “no for now” because you’re focused elsewhere. Your best response, “No, not right now, but please ask again when the answer can be yes. I’m thrilled to have been asked.”

Saying no will conserve mental and emotional energy.

As much as I try to engineer adding more hours in the day and a couple more days in the week, it’s never going to happen. There’s never enough time nor energy to do it all, but there’s always enough time for our highest priorities. A CHRO friend once offered that life is all about making choices and choosing our priorities.  She chooses her own self-care as her top priority, knowing that if she doesn’t tend to her own needs and health first, she’s no good to anyone else.

In short, say no to the opportunities you know will not give you energy and yes to the ones that will. The activities that give you energy are those that come most naturally and that you are intrinsically motivated to care about. Say no to the rest.

Saying no allows space for growth and vulnerability.

Further to the idea of saying “no for now,” boundaries can be set initially then moved as your comfort level with a person or situation increases. Set your boundaries based on understanding your basic rights as a human (to be treated with dignity, for example), knowing your core values (being loyal, for example) and listening to your gut (as Han Solo would say, “I got a bad feeling about this…”). As time goes by, some of these may become less important to you or even be replaced with a new understanding of your rights, values and “gut feelings.” As these shift, so can your boundaries.

Harnessing the power of no for the purpose of setting healthy boundaries, especially with the support of an expert executive coach, can energize the most reluctant of yes-saying leaders. What behaviors have you implemented that enable setting healthy boundaries so you can choose to do your best work, versus trying to do all the work? We welcome your tips in comments below!

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