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Is it time to say ‘no’?

If we haven’t thought about who should get our time, we will say ‘yes’ too often

In my classes, participants frequently raise the frustration around their inability to say ‘no.’

They’re frustrated because they want to say ‘yes’ to everyone.

They’re frustrated because they’re worried about how people will view them if they say ‘no.’

They’re frustrated because they feel guilty if they don’t assist everyone who asks.

Frequently, this inability to say no is directly connected with and contributes to other frustrations: not finishing projects on time, not getting out of the office as early as possible or not spending as much time as possible with their families.

It can also contribute to fatigue, stress and bad health. It affects time management, leadership, communication and fear.

Bad reasons to say ‘yes’
It’s OK to say ‘no’ and it’s OK to say ‘yes’ – but it’s critical to understand the motivation behind each answer. There are a couple of points that come up over and over:

  1. We don’t know what we want, we don’t have specific goals, and therefore it’s easy to give our time away to anything.
  2. We grew up with parents who couldn’t say ‘no’ and therefore we feel guilty if we say ‘no.’ It somehow feels selfish or wrong.

It’s great to help people, and I’m certainly an advocate of saying ‘yes’ to people in need, to calls for assistance, to volunteerism and so on.

But saying ‘yes’ too often or to the wrong things or at the wrong times is sometimes just a way for us to avoid things in our lives we’d rather not face. Sometimes it’s a way to feel worthy and wanted as a human being, forgetting that saying ‘yes’ and being worthy are separate issues.

Good reasons to say ‘no’
If you find yourself frustrated by your inability to say ‘no’, you may need to review your system:

  • Are you chasing the right things?
  • Are your personal and professional goals clear?
  • Are you committed to these goals? Are they structured, organized and scheduled?
  • Are you clear about who and what situations you can say ‘no’ to?
  • Do you have responses worked out in advance for when people ask for help?

If we haven’t thought about who always gets our time, who sometimes gets our time, and who never gets our time, we will say ‘yes’ too often. The heat of the moment is not the time to decide these things. We have to have a plan.

This is not an easy process: it’s something we’ll go through over and over. Think about it. Where is your time going? Where is your energy going? Is it slipping away because you can’t say ‘no’?

Dr. Joe Serio is a popular and sought-after criminal justice speaker and trainer. He is currently delivering a series of classes on time management, emotional intelligence, leadership, customer service, and other topics at the Harris County (Houston) Sheriff’s Office Training Academy. Dr. Serio is a featured speaker at SHIELD, Sheriff Institute for Ethical Leadership Development, at the Travis County (Austin) Sheriff’s Office Training Academy. He also speaks at adult and juvenile probation departments as well as police departments.