How to Decide When to Say No

Learn how you can decide when to say yes and when to say no.

Lisa B. Marshall
5-minute read
Episode #107

The problem is when we continue to say yes, yes, yes,we over-commit. I’m not Dr. Rob (House Call Doctor) but I do know from personal experience (as I’m sure many of you do too) that when I’m over-committed I feel stressed out and tired. And the bottom line is that when we’re run down, we’re not as effective as we could be and we’re letting down both ourselves and the people we’re trying to help.

When Should You Say No?

So the quickest of all my quick and dirty tips in the past two years is simply to say no.

Nope. Nah. No way. Never. Uh uh.

I know, I know, it’s a lot easier said than done. And I promise to cover some very practical ways to respectfully and effectively say no, but I’m going to save that for part two. First, I’d like to talk about how to decide when to say no. There’s always going to be some things that deserve your attention and time and some that don’t. The problem is that most of us will have more opportunities than time. So then, how do you decide? I devised a little self-quiz to help evaluate opportunities. First, ask yourself:

1. Am I saying yes, ONLY because I feel obligated or would feel guilty if I said no?

If so, then, for sure, this would be exactly the time to say no. When we’re overly hungry for the approval of others, sometimes we’re not aware that in the process what we’re really doing is rejecting ourselves. It’s important to let go of the need to please others because when you don’t speak up about stuff that matters to you, when you stay in deadening situations, when you wait for things to change, it drains the joy and meaning from your life.

Say Yes to What’s Consistent with Your Values and Goals

It’s important to let go of the need to please others because when you don’t speak up about stuff that matters to you, it drains the joy and meaning from your life.

Life is too short to spend your days not doing what is important to you. Once you spend time, it is lost. So it makes sense to spend your time doing the things that are consistent with your values and goals.To remind myself of my goals, I have a sign that hangs directly in front of me that says, “Live life passionately, laugh until your belly hurts, and love unconditionally.” I also have pictures of family all around me, again reinforcing and reminding me what is most important for me. Finally I keep a bucket list of the things I’d like to accomplish before I die. Of course, your list may vary. This brings me to question 2 in my “should you say no” self-quiz:

2.    Is this new opportunity consistent with my values and does it contribute (or continue to contribute) to my longer-term goals in my life?

There are really two parts to that question. The first part is designed to encourage a review of what is important to you--but more importantly it’s a reminder to make decisions and to take actions based on your values. The problem is that we are often inconsistent with our actions. One day we go to the gym to exercise and the next day we slack off (OK, who am I kidding with this royal “we” stuff…of course, I’m talking about myself! I thought about going to yoga and Zumba today, but I just never got to the gym! Anyway…)


About the Author

Lisa B. Marshall

Lisa B. Marshall Lisa holds masters with duel degrees in interpersonal/intercultural communication and organizational communication. She’s the author of Smart Talk: The Public Speaker's Guide to Success in Every Situation, as well as Ace Your Interview, Powerful Presenter, and Expert Presenter. Her work has been featured in CBS Money Watch, Ragan.com, Woman's Day, Glamour, Cosmopolitan, and many others. Her institutional clients include Johns Hopkins Medicine, Harvard University, NY Academy of Science, University of Pennsylvania, Genentech, and Roche.