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When you say ‘yes’, do you really mean it?

Does this sound like you?

I imagine that you like to be seen as a kind, helpful sort of person. Am I right?

And that when someone asks you to do something for them, your default will probably be to say ‘Yes’.

I’m glad that there are people like you in the world. I celebrate your contribution and willingness to help.

But I want you to stop a minute and ask yourself a question: are there times when you say ‘Yes’ because…
… you don’t see that you have a choice?
… or because Yes is less complicated than No?
… or there’s a voice in your head telling you someone would be hurt if you said No?
… or for some reason, you think you ought to say Yes?

Are you resonating with some of the above? All of the above? They are all very familiar to me!

But whenever we say Yes when we’d really rather have said No, there are consequences.

‘Why on earth did I agree to this?’ we ask ourselves. We do what we agreed to, but reluctantly. We invest less energy. We look for excuses to opt out or leave early. Resentment begins to creep in.

It’s no fun being on the receiving end of such half-hearted support. It sends a message that we can’t be trusted. And it’s confusing to the person making the request. If they try to check out our willingness, we’ll probably deliver a tetchy ‘I said yes, didn’t I?’

What can you do to say a genuine Yes?

1.    Notice the pattern. When and to whom do you habitually say ‘Yes’?

2.    Listen to the story you’re telling yourself. If it is littered with thoughts of ‘ought’, ‘should’ and ‘have to’, you will convince yourself that you don’t have any choice. But is that really true? It’s more likely that it’s hard to imagine being able to say No because you feel embarrassed or fearful of the reaction you’ll get.

3.    Check out what lies behind the request. What would your ‘Yes’ mean to the person making it? Knowing what needs it would meet for them might make it easy for you to give your wholehearted commitment – even though you might have preferred to do something else.

4.    Take whatever time you need to give a considered response. But don’t just say ‘I need time to think’. Show care by saying something like ‘I know I tend to say Yes without thinking things through – and then I sometimes regret it later. I don’t want this to happen between you and me, so I’d like to think about whether I can willingly do what you’re asking. Would it work for you if I give you an answer tomorrow morning?

5.    Practise saying ‘No’ with care and compassion, so that you put your needs on an equal footing with other people’s.

The dream

I want our ‘Yes’ to be a willing statement of commitment.

I want each one of us to be able to say a confident Yes that means Yes – rather than a reluctant Yes that hides a reluctance or inability to say a careful and considerate No.

Far from being hurtful to another person, our genuine Yes says ‘I care about you and want things to be clear and open between us’. That, surely, is a gift of friendship.


This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

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