Learn to say NO – better manage other people’s expectations

Learn to say NO – better manage other people’s expectations

Woman looking up to the right and considering her options Yes/No/Maybe. Learn to say no

What would it take for you to learn to say no? Consider the following questions:

  1. Are you guilty of saying YES to someone when you really want to say NO?
  2. Do you find yourself wondering just how you allowed yourself be roped into doing something and now you feel angry and resentful as a result?
  3. Are you a “People Pleaser”?…. more inclined to go along with what other people want rather than asking for what you want.
  4. Do you suffer from Caretaker Personality Disorder?


Caretaker Personalities

Many people struggle to say NO to other people. It might be at work, it might be at home. More likely it is both. Those with Caretaker Personalities or People Pleasers have most likely developed these traits from an early age. Perhaps they never had role models who were able to demonstrate assertive skills. Ultimately, an inability to say no results in you not being able to successfully manage your time or your productivity.

Les Barbanell, in his book, “Removing the Mask of Kindness” reveals that “People Pleasers” may suffer from having a “Caretaker Personality ”. “According to Barbanell, these ‘nice’ people feel unhappy, empty, guilt-ridden, shameful, angry, anxious, afraid of rejection and abandonment and are emotionally and physically exhausted because they are brought up to put the needs of other people ahead of their own.” They have never learnt to say NO.

I am not a Psychologist so I won’t try to be one, but I get the point and I’m sure you do too. Whether this is a Disorder or not I’m not so sure, but I think we can agree it is not healthy to be continually giving in to others and not being assertive enough to be able to say no when necessary. This is especially true at work where the demands are never-ending and the needs are often great. On the other hand, there is a lot of pressure to do well and you don’t want to make career limiting mistakes by refusing to do some important work. How you respond is the key.

So what are the consequences of saying YES, when you know you should really be saying NO? This is a question I always ask groups I work with. For this article, let’s consider just four consequences of taking on too much.


1. Taking too much on leading to stress and possible “Burn-Out”

Obviously if you take too much on it will inevitably lead to stress and possible even burnout. I know of a few people I’ve worked with over the years who have suffered from an inability to be realistic about what they take on. They then work day and night to meet expectations of others and eventually they crash and are forced to take time off or even worse! Rather than learn from this though, when they eventually return to normal duties, the cycle unfortunately gets repeated.

2. You feel resentful, maybe even angry

If you are feeling this way, then it is a sure sign that you should have been a little more assertive and expressed your concern before you took on the task. By the way, you may be resentful at the other person, but more likely too, at yourself!

3. Masks the true problem

By continually saying yes to unreasonable requests it may result in an unreasonable workload and, you are likely masking the real problem that exists. Whilst this is fine for a short period, say a major project, it is not OK if this becomes the norm.

I know of a number of people who took on enormous workloads at great personal cost. When they finally reached the end of their tether and resigned, the companies found they had to employ two people to do the job that one person was doing! How sad that it took such drastic action on their part before the situation was resolved.

4. Creates a “Dependency”

Again, saying yes all the time can easily create a dependency. People, and sometimes even the organisation come to rely on YOU. Without YOU saying yes, the job won’t get done. They become dependent upon you.

What would happen if you were hit by the “proverbial Bus” and are no longer available? By learning to say NO occasionally, others are forced to learn and actually, in the long run, this is a better thing for the organisation anyway.


Manage Expectations – Learn to say NO

I like to look at this in terms of managing the expectations of other people. At work, it is likely that others will have expectations of us that may be unreasonable for a variety of reasons. We live in a busy age where the demands and expectations on people at work are indeed great. BUT, it is up to each one of us to manage those expectations in line with our capacity constraints. We cannot reasonably expect that others will do this for us.

So here are a six strategies or tips to help you learn to say no and better manage the expectations of others.

1 – Put in Your Boundaries

Know your boundaries. What will you do? What will you not do? Are you OK about staying late and missing tea or family time? Is this a definite NO for you? You need to be clear about this. Don’t expect others to put these boundaries in for you. They may, but then again…..

Be prepared to discuss these boundaries with your boss ahead of time.

2 – Be Clear about Your Priorities

Knowing your own priorities and goals can be a great defence for you. If you have a clear plan for how you are intending to spend your time and you get asked to take something else on, you can clearly outline what you were intending to work on this week, today etc. Not being clear about your priorities can lead you to take on tasks that are not really yours.

3 – Be prepared to Negotiate

Most things are negotiable…. I believe it is  quite okay to negotiate deadlines so be prepared to speak up. If you feel it cannot be done by a certain date, suggest when you feel you could do it by. Always explain what you are doing or are planning to do. This helps set the context for your negotiation.

Maybe you can negotiate to finish off what you are working on first. Maybe you can delay one of your existing tasks whilst you handle this latest request. You may not be successful in this, but it shows that you are being assertive in managing your tasks and projects.

4 – Under-Promise then Over-Deliver

Try to negotiate a longer time-frame and then deliver early if you can. Resist the temptation to say things like; “I will try to have it for you tomorrow” or “I’ll do my best” etc.

Try and be clear about when you can complete the task in light of your current commitments.

5 – Call a “Time Out”

You may not need to or be able to respond immediately. You can buy yourself some time while you consider your thought out response. Consider following:

  • “Can I have a think about this and get back to you (insert when)?”
  • “I need to check my calendar for next week (insert time period) first. I don’t want to say yes, and then realise I cannot do this for you”. OR
  • “Can you send me an email outlining exactly what it is you require…” (useful when you feel the scope on this request might creep…)


The point here being that once you say YES, you will likely feel stuck or trapped. It is much harder to get out of a commitment you have made than it is to avoid taking on the commitment in the first place.

6-Learn to say NO without saying NO

This a useful strategy to use when you know it is a task that is rightfully yours, but you are already snowed under. It’s a yes/but alternative. Consider the following examples:

  • “I can do that for you, but I’m currently doing (insert task) which I really must finish, can I do this for you on/at… (insert time that is convenient – remembering Point 4 above). OR
  • “Well I’m currently working on (insert task) which is due by (insert time), I can do this for you  (insert time).


The key as I think you can see here is to let the person know what you are currently working on and when you can take on their request. Once you let the person know this, you may be able to negotiate a realistic time-frame.

You might like to develop your own scripts and strategies you can call upon at the appropriate time. I hope you found this article helpful in helping you learn to say no appropriately.


Geoff Prior

Lingford Consulting – The Productivity Specialists

Learn more in our Personal Productivity Workshop

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