Do You Say Yes When You Mean No?

I’m not very good at saying no. In fact, I’m pretty useless at it. I’m a people pleaser, I hate the thought of others thinking bad of me. I’ll do anything I can to avoid confrontation and disagreements, even if it means placing myself in a position where I commit to something which is detrimental to my own well being. This has led to all kinds of calamity down the years. I’ll always say yes as opposed to cause offence.

Does it have its origins in my OCD? Possibly. In the bad old days, before I was properly educated and medicated about the illness, I would succumb to intrusive thoughts and the related compulsive behaviour 99 times out of 100. I was powerless to resist, or so I thought. I would cave in with disturbing frequency. The compulsion would always triumph and the beast within would be sated.

Until five minutes later, that was, when the next tranche of disturbing words and images would hit me, washing away my feeble defences. Such patterns instilled in me an ethos of worthlessness which spilled out into the real world. I was weak and needy because in my skewed mind I didn’t deserve anything more. My default setting was that people didn’t like me as I didn’t particularly like myself.

I could see it in the way they looked at me, the way they excluded me. I felt alone and excluded, unaware this was largely the figment of a damaged imagination. And in doing so I was isolating myself from the people who really mattered, those who cared and could help me. Blinded to this, I stumbled on wrapped up in my own sad little world of self pity and recrimination.

I said yes. A lot. There was no filter mechanism, no ‘off’ switch. I was a runaway train, careering down the track towards my doom. One minute everything was ticking along nicely, the next I found myself somewhere I didn’t want to be, with people I didn’t particularly want to be around. Extracting myself from said scenarios was invariably awkward and protracted. There was always a price to be paid.

Yesterday at work I said no. I could have said yes and the old Stephen would have, then fretted and worried for the next week about what lay ahead. Upon saying no, I was immediately submerged into negative and unwanted thinking. What if my bosses think badly of me? What if it leads to a confrontation? What if this impacts on my career? Am I letting people down? Acting unprofessionally?

I know in my heart that I have made the right call. I’m heading into work shortly to find out if there is any fallout to my stance. I’m hoping not. I’m also hoping this isn’t an isolated incident and it paves the way for further instances where I stand my ground both within and outside the workplace. Being a yes-man is no longer a coat I care to wear. Such people are taken for granted, to be used and abused on a whim.

Are you good at saying no? Or is it a struggle?

65 thoughts on “Do You Say Yes When You Mean No?

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  1. I’m no good at saying ‘no’ and I don’t have OCD. If I say no I have to add an excuse – often bogus – which is worse than just saying no if it gets found out. When I find myself committed to doing something helpful – like taking an elderly friend shopping regularly – I can’t comfort myself with the thought I’m being unselfish. It’s because I find it so hard to say no.

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  2. There is strength and freedom in knowing when to say no to requests that you truly feel are intrusive or not the right fit for you. I feel people do respect you more when you are able to verbalize why. If it is truly important to others or to your career, they should be able to start the dialogue of why you may want to reconsider. No doesn’t have to be fatal or final. But it can be the start of setting some boundaries from which you can work and live from a position of your own strengths.

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  3. I definitely struggle with this. The one thing that *does* help is if I take a moment to ask what result I want. When I am in touch with that answer, I am much better at saying no if it does not help reach the result that I want.

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      1. I had a friend who was really good at it that trained me. One of the key steps is to recondition yourself to NOT offer an explanation as soon as you say “no.” You’ve given your answer and it ends there. If the person asks why, you can simply say, “It’s not something I can do right now” or your why but keep it simple. The truth is, people rarely follow up with a why. We’re conditioned to justify our “no’s” and never our “yes’s.” Try it. It really works.

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  4. No. Not good at it, but better than I used to be.
    But, you did well. “No” because you’re lazy is not good (I assume this is not the case). “No” because it will impact your work performance on other commitments shows proper focus. One of the best things a manger can do is set a due date for a project, then delegate. It is up to the one being asked to prioritize previous commitments and advise as to whether or not the request is doable based on those protocols.

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  5. Thank you Stephen, as always. Your willingness to share your struggles as well as your successes is appreciated. It is difficult for me to say no. It’s often the source of emotional pain, resentment, and self-loathing. Once I acknowledged my defect of character in this area, I could begin the often slow and agonizing process of changing the behavior. I still remember how free I felt the first time I was able to say no to someone, especially since they said okay and life went on. It was an eye-opening moment!

    I still have difficulty though I’ve gotten better. The closer my relationships are, the more difficult the process. I really encounter this with one of my kids on particular. At the root of the issue is fear. I’ve found 99% of these fears to be irrational and unreal. That doesn’t always make it easier does it?

    Keep up the great work. I enjoy getting “to know” you through your wonderful posts. To you and yours, thank you.

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  6. You’ve just described my wife. I’ve often told her that no is a much shorter word than yes and it should be a lot easier to say! But she never seems to learn. (You may be pleased to read that my ‘Like’ problem is now resolved. The Happiness Engineer put it down to me using Microsoft Edge. So I’m now, albeit reluctantly, using Chrome – though it does also have the advantage of translating French or whatever websites into English). 🙂

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  7. Good for you. I’m getting better. Someone really smart said that we don’t even need to give an explanation. (Tho at work that may be required). Saying no to my grown children is very hard, but I’ve learned to do it when I had to. Be true to yourself!!

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  8. Oh I can SO relate! It took years of therapy before I managed my first “No” and, like you, I cringed, waiting for the catastrophe to happen. It didn’t! Saying no has relieved me of that awful cycle of self-recrimination and blame. I say yes, most of the time, but if I cannot do what is asked of me I say no. It took a lot of practice, but I am much happier today because I know the world will not implode just because I had to say no. We cannot give from an empty cup. Self-care makes our yeses more doable and our nos less painful. You should be proud of yourself – that took real growth and I am confident that will be little to no backwash from it. God bless you with strength. Thank you for sharing this. I am sure you are helping thousands with your honesty and courage.

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  9. I understand where you are coming from, because I have a related struggle. I have no problem saying yes to other people when I am in a place to help, but saying yes to myself is much, much harder. (and thus saying no so I can say yes to myself) I know in my case, it stems from having a really bad, long experience with a person who only thought of themself. It was crazy unhealthy, and I was very young, so it made a deep mark. My immediate thoughts of doing anything for myself is caught up in a paralyzing fear that I’m causing pain to other people like that person did to me. But. I’m learning as I go to say yes to myself more.

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  10. It is hard for me to say no.

    My last relationship I would say no and he would say “too bad you’re doing it anyway.” And next thing you know I am standing in the middle of a mosh pit.

    At work they ask if I am available for overtime I say yes. Then I realize I am working 17 days in a row. Somewhere around day 11 I think to myself why did I say yes.

    With my children I say No. I don’t know. Maybe. Ok yes.

    I think over the years I have become a I don’t know person.

    What do you want to eat? I don’t know. What do you want?
    Where do you want to go? I don’t know. Where ever you want.
    Can I go to my friends house? I don’t know ask dad.

    How about you just tell me and I will say yes.

    The struggle is real.

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  11. Please let us know the outcome. They might just respect you more for it!

    Personally, I am a recovering people pleaser. I still struggle. I have a good friend that will kick my ass for it though and that has helped.

    Professionally, I have no problem with saying no or people pleasing. I have always been confident. In my field, it is expected and respected.

    Best of luck!

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  12. I have no problem saying no these days. I take care of myself first and others second. Otherwise I can’t cope with either. Sometimes I have a hard time saying no to craft projects but if its something I don’t feel qualified to do its best to pass.

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  13. A very sensitive topic to discuss! Thank you for bringing it up!

    You are learning to set boundaries that allow you to uphold ‘your’ values! You’re on a journey of practicing self compassion, self respect and self love.
    This time, you didn’t rush the yes! You took a step back! You are becoming clear about what’s ok and that’s not ok.

    When I had this company design their graphic identity, I wanted to say no to getting paid half of what I used to get paid during my glorious design days! But instead I said yes. I wasn’t attempting to please ‘them’! I was attempting to prove I can still do it! I’m ok with my decision. But I did question the yes! However, I did take a step back, thought it over, then delivered my yes to taking on the project. I’m glad I didn’t say yes immediately! I’d have been resentful right now!

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  14. I am terrible at saying no, and when I say no I end up saying yes because I feel bad for saying no. Recently I said “yes” to something that made me feel SO uncomfortable and anxious, but I did it out of obligation. I wish saying no wasn’t something that was frowned upon. I have learned though that sometimes for the sake of my mental health I have to be comfortable saying no.

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  15. You have to maybe look at why your saying no.
    Valuing yourself and your time. If we constantly give out it’s like using a rechargable battery but never charging it.. the energy is constantly depleted.
    I run a retreat for cancer patients, end of life care non profit and also work full time.
    I was the same if I could help I would..
    Looking back I don’t know how I was doing it all.
    Universe gave me an alright kick up the bum last year I collapsed.
    Hospital and a big rethink.
    I’m still doing free Therapies short breaks but I had to take control and sometime say not today.
    Listen to my body.
    We need to re charge to re give.
    Be gentle with yourself my friend.
    You are valued x

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  16. I might have a different, yet related problem. I frequently think others are saying yes out of a feeling of obligation. For the most part, this feeling is reserved for my best friends and my family members. When I ask them to spend time with me I worry the entire time that they are only there because I used to be suicidal. It couldn’t possibly be because they actually enjoy my company or the activity we are doing.
    In those moments, I take a deep breath and remind myself that they have the power to say “no.”
    No has never been a forbidden word for me or them. But, still, I have little moments where I struggle with “yes.” Strange, but oh well.

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  17. I have issues with saying no as well. It’s like an automatic answer I have similar when someone asks me how I am and I immediately say “I am good, thanks” even though I feel like shit. What used to be even more awkward is the times I wanted to say NO and instead I just went quiet and fidgety until the other person could clearly tell I wasn’t going to say yes.

    Really random but for a second there when I saw your post title, I thought I had jumped into that unfortunate Justin Bieber song. Not a fan of his music. Lol!

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