Say “No” Before You Say “Yes”

Many years ago there was a period in my life when I became completely overwhelmed by my commitments. I owned a couple of companies, did volunteer work, ran 30 to 40 miles a week and managed a very busy personal life. I found myself complaining a lot and blaming those around me for expecting too much of me. I had become a victim of my “yes’s.”


One day someone came to me and asked if I would take on a new project. In the moment before I responded I had a powerful insight. I realized that when ever I was asked to commit to something my automatic response was “yes, be glad to, of course, etc.” I suddenly realized I was automatically saying “yes” to just about everything.


When someone asked me to do something I was blindly charging ahead by saying “yes”, without thinking through what I was about to commit to. I realized my automatic “yes” response was being driven by my commitment to looking good, making people happy, being liked, etc. I was making promises I wasn’t really committed to accomplishing but “looking good” was. Because keeping my word is important I would trudge ahead begrudgingly and more times than not kept my agreements.


Like the layers of an onion I continued to peel back my insight. What I realized every time I said “yes” there was always a bit of fear gnawing away in my stomach; an actual physical response. This startled me a bit wondering, “what was the source of the fear?”


My fear had everything to do with “what if” I don’t keep my agreement? Then they won’t respect or like me and I won’t look good. Since “yes” is a promise to do something my “word” had become a burden rather than an opportunity.



Easy to say Yes; Hard to say No



Standing there in front of that person I also realized if I said “no” he may not like it, not like me, I might miss out on something etc.; there was a risk. Again I could see in an instant that automatically saying “yes” without a thorough examination of my other commitments required no thinking and therefore no risk. By saying “no” I was putting myself at risk and required me to think it through before committing either way. After a moment I looked at him square in the eye and said, “thank you for asking me to do this and I decline.”



No.…Now What Do You Want?



From that moment on and still to this day when anyone asks me; “Tom, I’ve got a favor to ask of you,” I immediately look at them and say “no”, “now what is it you’d like me to do?” It might sound rude however usually people laugh when I give them a “no” before they ask the question. More importantly I’m creating a buffer of time for myself to respond. I’ve already committed to not doing what they’re going to ask and if it’s really going to be important then I want to hear it. From the position of “no” I might just say “yes.” Practicing the above is a discipline that allows me to responsibly choose to commit to a “yes” or “no”.


Below are three questions I developed and engage in before I commit to anything of importance to me;

  1. Am I willing and able to do what’s being asked of me? If it’s yes to both questions then I move on to the next question.

  2. If I commit to this, by when does it need to get done? If the “by when” element works for me then I move to the final question.

  3. If I say “yes” can I be counted on to get it done? “Yes” or “No”. (there are no “try”, “should”, “maybe” etc allowed here) It’s either a “Yes or a “No”. Choose it.


Over the years I’ve practiced and coached my clients in the use of the above discipline. What I continue to notice and what is shared by my clients is a real sense of power and freedom shows up when practicing the discipline of “yes” or “no.”

© Copyright 2011 Growth Strategies LLC

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