How to Say “No” to Being a “Yes Person”

We all know a “Yes” person. That person who feels the need to say yes in order to be a people pleaser. They want to be liked by their colleagues. They will work late, take on an extra job of responsibilities, take on tasks beneath or beyond their skill level all with the aim to please another. Sometimes, we don’t realize that we are that person until we are buried in the work.

I recently had a Client who is extremely hard-working, who was at the point of burnout because they kept saying ‘yes’ when handed work off to them. Through our coaching session, their homework was to evaluate all the activities they were taking on that was out of the scope of their role. To start, they decided to sit down with one of their cross-functional partners to reduce activities on their plate. In their interactions, they discuss the activity and the rationale as to why it would be more suitable for the cross-functional partner to own this activity.

And the response they got was ‘No, I have too much on my plate to take that on.’ An unapologetic – ‘No’. Not even another suggested solution. Just ‘No’.  It never occurred to my Client that their colleague would just say no. That word not being a part of their own dictionary, they didn’t even think that would be an option. For their entire career, they have always wanted to be a good team player and saying yes to supporting their peers, and bosses they realized how much they have taken on when they did not have to. They realized it was time for them to start taking control and saying “no” to their colleagues.

So, what’s the harm in saying yes? It can easily lead you to burnout as you begin to take on extra work, it permeates into non-work hours and you become increasingly frustrated that you’re working while others aren’t. The quality of your work begins to suffer, and you become less productive and efficient switching from task to task. This can lead to stress and anxiety levels increasing trying to manage all the deadlines and assignments. Finally, there will be people who will continue to take advantage of your generosity knowing they can pass things off to you.

Here’s what you can do to say No to Yes:

  1. Know your role and responsibilities – When you have a clear understanding of your role, your scope and what your priorities are, you can better determine if you should be saying yes to new assignments. Know your capabilities and skillsets. I’m sure there are things that may not take you long to do, but one thing adds to another adds to another.
  2. It’s ok to say ‘no’ – Saying ‘No’ occasionally, does not make you a selfish person. You will still be liked and in some cases, even respected for it. I understand saying no to your peers seems tough and saying no to your boss seems damn near impossible. I recommend starting to say no to your peers next time you are asked to do something outside your area of responsibility.
  3. Say no without saying no – If your boss is asking you to take yet another task on, ask them ‘how you would like me to reprioritize?’ You can let them know that by accepting a new assignment, another one might get delayed or the impact to you working on the weekend. Let them decide if their ask is worth you taking this on.

Being a team player should not be at the expense of your health and personal life. This doesn’t mean you start to decline everything. Just be considerate in the way you express your ‘no.’ Offer other solutions for the work to get done. Give reasons as to why you aren’t able to do it now, but maybe later if time allows. Support your colleagues and understand it may not have been easy for them to ask for help.

I’d love to hear more about situations you’ve been in where you’ve had to say no to a peer or boss. What tactics did you use to make them understand your workload?