Saying yes Always? Say no too!

Reading Time: 7 minutes

Being compliant at the drop of a hat is a metaphor for ‘I am a door mat, walk all over me with your dirty feet.’ We need to exit this club of ‘people pleasers’ in a hurry and put back the word ‘no’ in our personal interactions. Shernaz dwells on the art of saying no, something that’s not easy, in the weekly column, exclusively for Different Truths.

Are you a compulsive, obsessive ‘helper’ who just cannot say ‘no’ whether it is at work, in the home or to friends? Many of us are. We juggle and struggle with a hundred things, expand self and spend valuable me-time in trying to please others. Those others who run our lives, while we ruin them in our pursuit to appear nice or to avoid confrontations! Being compliant at the drop of a hat is a metaphor for ‘I am a door mat, walk all over me with your dirty feet.’ We need to exit this club of ‘people pleasers’ in a hurry and put back the word ‘no’ in our personal interactions.

There is an interesting anecdote about John Galbraith’s housekeeper, Emily Wilson.  One day in 1965, the famous economist was taking a nap and had instructed that he was not to be disturbed at any cost. President Lyndon B. Johnson happened to call him and was told by Emily, “He is taking a nap and has left strict orders not to be disturbed.”  “Well, I am the president. Wake him up!” She simply replied, “I am sorry, Mr. President, I work for Mr. Galbraith, not for you.” And she hung up. She knew her priorities and was not afraid to say no even to the President of her country!

Women, in particular, get caught in this trap if they were brought up to be the ‘exemplary’ sweet kids who always helped around the house and family. Childhood influences could be one factor that perpetuates this mode of behaviour; we grow up believing that we will be loved and appreciated only if we go beyond the call of duty to help, by shelving our own interests. That spells lack of self-confidence. Once cast in the mould of ‘people pleaser’ we get into a vicious circle because others take us for granted, manipulate and expect us to be there at all times to fulfil their demands. And often they call themselves our friends!

Being helpful is fine; it is a very positive attribute but becomes a vice when it is entirely at the expense of personal commitments and needs. We cannot give our self away to our detriment.

So why do we persist in carrying on this toxic habit? Perhaps we strongly believe that we are helpless and must continue to please others; possibly we are anxious we will not be liked because we will portray ourselves as mean and uncharitable if we refuse help. We may be afraid of criticism or damaging a relationship and the thought of antagonising someone is anathema, causing nervousness.  Faced with such fears we tip-toe delicately on ‘eggshells’ hoping to avoid conflict and unpleasant face-offs and as a consequence injure our ‘emotional feet’.

For those who are in this cauldron, it is time to stop and take a deep look into their ‘individual’ why of this behaviour. Is your time valuable to you? Do personal priorities matter to you? Do you have self-respect? If the answer to all three questions is yes then don’t subject yourself to the strain of constantly saying yes. One doesn’t have to be obliged at the price of one’s emotional health because eventually, that is what takes a drubbing. So we must learn to say no and weigh our main concerns before we say yes.

Being a ‘yes-bosser’ is a habit we can stop re-enforcing. It can be tricky, takes courage initially and may get ugly but once we learn to say no and stop being over-acquiescent to gratify others, we open up a new space of being; we shine light upon facets of a better world in which self-respect and respect from others is rewardingly landscaped.

It is draining, irksome, stressful and overwhelming to regularly feel pressurised to say yes. Not just us, even our families have to pay a toll which we cannot undermine. Before it gets out of hand and we reach the point of no return from impending breakdown, it would be best to learn to say ‘yes’ to oneself. It becomes significant and empowering without us becoming the hideous persons we imagine ourselves turning into. Saying no does not make us rude or ungenerous. It is the demand of self-care and we must heed it. We must return to balance. We must set limits and ensure that no one crosses them.

When one needs to say ‘no’, it must be polite but very firm. A limp, wishy-washy answer will be misunderstood for yes. There is no need either to be over-apologetic or defensive; churning out excuses could actually aggravate the situation and put one up against the wall. A simple refusal when it would be difficult to meet an unreasonable request is not rejection. We are urged to offer an alternative when we have to say no. Suggest another person who might be able to help or recommend another way to do the task. This will not make the person feel ‘rejected’ and they will know that you care and have put in some thought before refusing to do it.

We must be true to ourselves if we want to be true to others. Anyone who becomes frustrated and reacts with anger or hostility to an honest ‘no’ is disrespectful, overbearing and does not deserve to be entertained.  “You are my friend and you won’t do this much for me?” I bet you’ve heard that one and its ilk often. You are certainly their friend but those who use this blackmailing manoeuvre are positively not yours. Don’t keep them at arm’s length; keep them as far away as you can.

Saying no to things that don’t matter gives us leeway to say yes to those that do. We function with greater focus and are more productive. It simplifies life. It re-energises and revitalises us, keeping us above the depth of misery caused by unnecessary fears. We free up the much-needed space in life to smell the flowers and count the stars; it redefines our spirituality by letting us honour our true self. By reaching out lovingly to our inner being and defining our margins we become less resentful and gain back control over our lives.

John Townsend, Ph.D., is a business consultant, psychologist, leadership coach and co-author with Henry Cloud, Ph.D., of Boundaries: When to Say Yes, How to Say No to Take Control of Your Life. He says the best way to define a boundary is to think of it as a property line. “It’s a demarcation in our lives between those things that we are responsible for and those things we can’t be responsible for,” he says. “For example, you and I are responsible for our own careers, and we might want to help each other and support each other, but we can’t take on each other’s careers—or our feelings or our relationships or our money or our time.”

“The brain loves control,” Cloud says. “It goes to high performance when it feels like it is in control, so focus on the things you can control that lead to results, not the things you can’t.”

Here is a list of 6 quotes, created by Jonathan Becher. I have picked them up from  These help us to understand why it is imperative to say No.

1)     “What you don’t do determines what you can do.”

—Tim Ferriss, author (source)

2)    “Half of the troubles of this life can be traced to saying yes too quickly and not saying no soon                         enough.”

—Josh Billings, pen name of humorist Henry Wheeler Shaw (unverified)

3)    “The difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful                       people say no to almost everything.”

—Warren Buffet, famed investor (source)

4)     “We need to learn the slow ‘yes’ and the quick ‘no.’”

—Tom Friel, former CEO of Heidrick & Struggles (source)

5)      “The art of leadership is saying no, not saying yes. It is very easy to say yes.”

—Tony Blair, politician (source)

6)      And, for even more inspiration, one from Steve Jobs:

“Focusing is about saying no.”

There are other major areas in life we must focus on and learn to say an emphatic no to — rejection, fear, negativity… It means not giving up on dreams, not giving up on oneself. History glorifies itself with names of those who refused to be bamboozled by the temporary setbacks of rejection and made it big — Gandhiji, J. K. Rowling, the Beatles, Thomas Edison, Michael Jordan, Steven Spielberg, Michael Bloomberg, Steve Jobs, Lady Gaga, Madonna, Oprah Winfrey, Marilyn Monroe, Lucille Ball, Van Gogh, Claude Monet, Bill Gates, Stephen King, the list is endless.

We may not make it to their pinnacle of success, we may not carve our names in the annals of universal, everlasting fame but we will certainly enrich our lives by reaching our absolute potential. With every door slammed in our face we must find the courage to tap on the next, till one finally yields to our knocks.

The key then is to know when to say yes, when to say no, sort of finding an appropriate balance, without guilt, without being offensive and without being selfish.

“Tone is the hardest part of saying no.” said, Jonathan Price, in Put That in Writing.

©Shernaz Wadia

Photos from the internet.

#PowerOfNo #SayingNo #DisagreeingWithFirmness #BeingAbleToSayNo #DifferentTruths

To Shernaz Wadia, reading and writing poems has been one of the means to embark on an inward journey. She hopes her words will bring peace, hope and light into dark corners. Her poems have been published in many e-journals and anthologies. She has published her own book of poems “Whispers of the Soul” and another titled “Tapestry Poetry – A Fusion of Two Minds” with her poetry partner Avril Meallem.