Do we end up saying yes when we want to say no


By Deepak Sawhney (India)

There is nothing in this world which can make us say “Yes” when we want to say “No”. Yet when someone approaches us with a request, some of us end up saying yes only to regret it later.

What is it that we regret and why do we really regret it later? There are multiple reasons for it. Let us not go there, as yet. It is simply because we will regret, fret and resolve not to do it again but yet again go back to saying yes when we want to say no.

We should rather be looking at the solution to this challenge through reflection & a series of questions. These questions and some more insights came to me after observing a coaching session. This coaching session happened in one of my coach training programs at an IT healthcare company. I am sharing a part of the conversation. Some questions have not been documented here for the sake of keeping it short and highlighting the point.

Coach : What would happen if you said no?

Coachee: Firstly, my family would be very happy as most often my habit of saying yes to people at work keeps me working till late at the office. However, it may upset people at work because they are used to me usually saying yes to any request for help and support.

Coach : In what ways does this work for you?

Coachee: It works in many ways. I am able to build better relationships with people. It helps me to get support from them too, wherever and whenever I need it. I feel that it has helped me build peer level support and built my credibility too.

Coach : How long back did you develop this habit?

Coachee: (Thinking) In the past 11/2 years when I was promoted to this senior role in the company.

Coach : What do you believe were the reasons for this change?

Coachee: Like I said, I wanted to get the support of the people/team in my new role. Now that I think about it, I wanted people to love me, appreciate me and talk well of me. I felt a strong need for acceptance in this senior role.

Coach : If that seems to be your reason. How successful do you think you have been in achieving that? On a scale of 1-10; 1 being failure & 10 being highly successful.

Coachee: I would say 7.5.

Coach : At this level / rating, how do you feel?

Coachee: I would say pretty happy and I don’t wish to take it up further (Laughs).

Coach : (Laughing) So, if you don’t wish to take it further up, how much are you willing to let it slide back?

Coachee: I will be quite concerned about any slide downwards as it will not be good for my professional career at this stage.

The action plan created by Coachee further in the conversation was to begin by saying “no” to subordinates. She felt it would not impact her professional credibility with peers and seniors. Her reflections made her realise that most situations were coming from subordinates and very rarely from peers and seniors.

Let me go back to an earlier point where I said that this challenge requires us to ask some questions. So, which are those questions?

What prompts us to say yes?

Multiple reasons prompt us; to be agreeable and liked, perceived and seen as supportive and not selfish, be seen as the most in demand person. What is your prompt?

What are our motives to say yes?

Let me begin by asking how one felt after having said yes, does one feel excited or guilty? We will know it soon enough after we have said the word. Reflecting on our response could lead to our motives.

Many a times, like in the coaching conversation example, the lady seemed to suggest that she says yes as she fears falling out of favor with seniors and peers. Our sense of what others expect from us could be the reason for us to say yes when we want to say no.

I recall that this fear of not meeting or rather not falling short of expectations people had of me made me say yes. In many ways it helped me. I prepared better, learnt better and gained more in the process.

Instead of fear one may have the desire to do the ask that which is expected of him/ her.

Sometimes saying yes is part of a strategy to survive. It is fine if one has no choice in the matter and such situations are few and far between. However, if this strategy is being adopted very often, it requires reflection on what makes us feel that there is no other choice and it is a question of survival. What is your motive?

So what can be done, if we wish to improve in this area?

The prompt and motives may apply to most and yet the approach to correct the situation may be different and unique.

Unlike the conversations referred ABOVE, one may not have an opportunity to have a coach to one self. So if we too struggle with this challenge, let us begin by asking these questions. We know the answers ourselves. The answers hold the keys to change.


About Deepak Sawhney

Deepak Sawhney is an Executive Coach & Co-Founder of Anaptyxi People Consult Pvt. Limited – A Coaching, Consulting & Training Company.

Deepak is a senior professional with the background of rich experience of 25+ years in profit centre & national roles in Sales, Marketing & Training, learning & development. He has been trained by Dr Marshall Goldsmith, considered world’s no. 1 Executive Coach, which motivated and inspired him to take up coaching. He started off, while working in one the leading BFSI Company, as an Internal Coach in 2010 to CXOs & Business & Departmental heads. Later Deepak took up successfully a Coach Certification program with the Results Coaches System. Since 2013 he has been operating as an independent coach. He has worked on assignments with Directors/CXOs, VPs & Senior Professionals from BFSI, Manufacturing, Services, Consulting & BPO industry. He has coached people on Leadership competencies, executive presence, Conflict management, Interpersonal Relationships, Work Life Balance, Business & revenue growth.

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