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Saying yes when you really want to say no

Author: Carly Ferguson, Executive Coach

Here’s what I’ve been hearing recently, mainly from women, who are frustrated and fed up...

“The meetings go on for longer than they should and it messes up my schedule”

“I keep having meetings put in my diary on days I don’t officially work”

“I had to take a work call when I was on holiday”

There’s a saying; ‘if you’re fed up of being treated like a doormat then stop putting your mat

down for people to wipe their feet on’. You teach people how to treat you, and if you’re not

respecting your own boundaries around your time then how can you expect anyone else to?

You’re setting an expectation that it’s okay to do, and strengthening this each and every time

that you say yes, when you should really say no.

I asked these women;

“Did you stay on the call after it was supposed to end?”

“Did you accept the meeting and attend?”

“Did you take the call?”

The answers were a resounding, “well, yes - what else could I do?”

So then I asked;

“What would have happened if you hadn’t?”

The irrational fears that initially came up were; displeasing someone or the fear of getting in

trouble or fired. But the rational truth, after digging a little deeper was nothing. The world

wouldn’t have ended (legally you cannot be fired for reminding people you don’t work Fridays).

All of these women are incredible at their jobs, adding huge value and are well respected in their

organisations. They have no need to prove anything by saying yes to unreasonable requests.

So why do they do it? For generations, women have been praised for being selfless…which

literally means, ‘less of self’. We need to break this self destructive cycle of always putting others

needs before our own by creating healthier boundaries and sticking to them.

I then asked the women; “what’s the impact of continuing to say yes?” The answer was, “I’ll

continue to feel frustrated and disrespected.”

“How would it change your life for the better if you started to say no?” I asked.

[You can insert your own answer here]

So now I’ve got you thinking, you might now be wondering how you can handle these situations

in a more empowering way so here are some alternatives to yes;

Situation 1 - meetings running over

5 minutes before the end of the session say, “It feels like this session is going to over-run and I

have another appointment scheduled in 5 minutes so are there any actions for me or do we

need to schedule a follow-up meeting to finish?”

If this happens enough times hopefully the meeting owner will become more efficient in their time


Situation 2 - meetings on your day off

“I know that I’ve said yes to previous calls on a Friday but, it’s actually very inconvenient for me,

especially because I don’t work Fridays and I’m supposed to be spending quality time with my

kids (or running my side business/caring for my mother etc). Any chance we could move it to a

different day?”

They say yes OR they update you on Monday. The world doesn’t end.

Situation 3 - taking calls or emails when you’re on holiday

There are lots of ways you can deal with the holiday request and this depends on your seniority

but, before the holiday do a thorough handover and choose a deputy (this will reduce the

chance of someone needing to contact you), let your boss know that you won’t be checking your

phone on holiday but that you have a great team that can manage things in your absence. You

may have some flexible boundaries, for example if there is a decision that you want to be

involved in, you can say. ‘If it’s urgent, text me.’ BUT clarify what urgent means. Again, you

cannot be fired for not responding to an email or call whilst you’re on holiday.

And remember, this benefits more than just you. Once you start to do this more, it gives others permission to do the same. That’s when change really starts to happen. Be the role model that you wish you’d had.

If this has you thinking about all the times you say yes when you really want to say no, then

practice asking yourself the questions above, I’d love to hear how you get on.



Carly Ferguson

Main image by You X Ventures on Unsplash


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