There’s an ancient scripture that urges us to “Let our ‘Yes’ be yes and our ‘No’ be no, lest our language be used against us.” That’s important wisdom for anyone concerned about Work / Life Balance. Too often we fail to say what we mean and to mean what we say. Too often we fail to set strong, healthy, and appropriate boundaries around our work and life. But as this Provision makes clear, it doesn’t have to be that way! We really can balance “Yes” with “No.”
Do you find it hard to say “No” sometimes? Do you ever quietly resent saying “Yes”? Work / Life Balance is not only about managing our time. It’s about managing our passion, energy, and enjoyment across the things that matter. It starts with the choices we make about where we spend our valuable resources. Are you choosing to spend yours on unnecessary things?
Balancing “Yes” with “No” is the one thing that can make or break your Work / Life Balance. And if there is one thing that brings immediate benefit, this is it. Balancing “Yes” with “No” is about choosing our “No’s” and “Yeses” carefully and more often, with less guilt and more purpose.
Every time we say “Yes” to one thing, we automatically say “No” to something else. For example, saying “Yes” to extra work hours may be saying “No” to family or personal commitments. Saying “No” to junk food today is saying “Yes” to being healthy. Saying “No” gives meaning and respect to our “Yeses”. Saying “Yes” gives support and strength to our “No’s”.
Balancing “Yes” with “No” can be difficult at first. Saying “No” can sometimes meet with guilt, anger, and resistance from others. Before we explore this resistance, let’s consider the cost of not saying “No” when we need to. Think how you feel, even briefly, when your life doesn’t seem like yours anymore, when you are resentful, tired, anxious, or even overwhelmed. At these times it is difficult to spend any of our energy, passion, or enjoyment on others let alone on ourselves. We have temporarily lost balance. Getting it back starts with making a choice.
Balancing “Yes” with “No” is one of the most basic choices we get to make. It is the foundation of setting basic boundaries in our life. Being able to set basic boundaries helps us to actively manage our ideal Work / Life Balance. We apply boundaries with others and with ourselves.
Boundaries allow us to participate when it is appropriate and to maintain our distance when it is not appropriate or harmful to us. They are not a weapon to be used against others but are merely a property line showing who is responsible for what.
Boundaries are sometimes flexible, especially in today’s rapidly changing world, full of competing demands and desires. One week we may welcome long work hours. The next week, long hours may not be acceptable due to other commitments. Being rigid in a constantly shifting environment can mean being constantly out of balance.
I have worked with people in the USA and Australia who would excuse themselves from a meeting at 3 pm to go see their son play soccer. The next week those same people willingly traveled away from home on business, working long hours and going without seeing their children. These people actively balanced “Yes” with “No”. They chose to balance their passion, energy and excitement across the people and areas of their lives that matter.
Learning to create balance protects us from accidentally creating habits that are hard to break, like choosing to always work long hours. John Dryden, the 17th century English poet once said, “We first make our habits, and then our habits make us.”
Sometimes we don’t get a choice. And sometimes we may be incorrectly assuming we have no choice, or we might be following an old mindset (Issue #1 Stop Digging) such as feeling automatically guilty about saying “No”. The only way to find out if we have a choice is to ask for what we want, or to say “Yes” occasionally to what we want and no to what we don’t.
The difference will be less resentment and more energy for things that matter. Balancing “Yes” with “No” encourages a healthy self-image and fosters better relationships. Being able to say “No” encourages trust and stability with others in our work and personal lives.
Here’s an example: Say you have two customers with the same deadline, but you cannot possibly get both done on time. If you don’t communicate a boundary to one of your customers, you are guaranteed to disappoint them and lose their respect or business by being late. The customer feels cheated out of being able to negotiate a workable solution; you look bad, incompetent, or even untrustworthy and end up feeling resentful for trying in the first place!
Patti Breitman & Connie Hatch in their book How to Say No Without Feeling Guilty, warn us of a trap we set for ourselves by not being able to say “No”. They say, “It’s even worse when you’re so invested in being ‘nice’ that you say “Yes” to things and then follow through on them badly, half-heartedly, or not at all. By promising something you can’t deliver, you set a big trap for yourself and then walk right into it.”
Breitman and Hatch explain that being ‘invited’ is very different from being ‘expected’. Once we’ve said yes, we’re expected. Many of us set our own traps and walk into them because that’s what we are used to doing. Knowing this can help us start creating a better Work / Life Balance immediately.
We can start by giving ourselves permission to balance “Yes” with “No”, at least occasionally. Everyone encounters limits in what is possible. Balance is found in the acceptance of our own boundaries and those of others. That means also learning to take no for an answer. If we can take no for an answer, then we are living proof that others can and will survive a no from us.
Remember that we are practicing balance here. Sometimes we say “No” and sometimes we say “Yes”. Occasionally, it’s okay to just say “No” to a client, boss, spouse, child, or friend • it’s our basic choice and it can actually be enjoyable!
There are many ways to experiment. Sometimes before we say “No” to a direct request, it pays to ask for more details. In some cases, we won’t even have to say “No” because the request turns out to be a false deadline that can be negotiated and agreed to suit both people.
It is important to ponder the reasonableness of the request. Remember that people are sometimes caught up in their needs and forget to consider whether a request is in our best interests. This is natural and it really is our job to decide what our best interests are (Issue #2 Name Your Claim) and then to protect them.
Saying “No” comes out more naturally when we have already said yes to something that matters. And by simply realising that other people will try and push back when we say “No”, the surprise is taken out of their attempts to resist our no — at least for us that is! The next step is to help others to catch up.
If others are disappointed, they need to own their disappointment. It’s on their side of the property line. As adults, we get to choose whether we think our no is fair. Scott Adams’ Dilbert character helps us see the funny side of this in a Work / Life Balance comic where the tiny Catbert tells Dilbert that if he doesn’t like it he should, “Take a pill, crybaby!” Catbert has no problem reminding Dilbert to own his disappointment. His delivery could use some finesse though.
If people persist with an unreasonable request, we can simply repeat our original no until they come to terms with it. There’s no need to elaborate, it’s not a negotiation, “No. I can’t get it to you by then. I’d really like to but I can’t.” No doesn’t always mean ‘never in your life!’ We can say “No” for now, but invite people to ask us again next time, “I can’t help you this time (or this week or today etc.), but please ask me again next time (or next week or tomorrow etc.) and I’ll see if I can help then.”
But what if we simply cannot say “No” because we have no choice? We can try giving a conditional yes like, “I can get you the first two reports by tomorrow, but not the last one”. Another way is to explain the consequences of giving a complete yes, “If I agree to do this, I can’t give you my time on Monday • which would you prefer?”
Start practicing on something easy. Say “No” to a Telemarketer you don’t want to buy from. Be direct and respectful. Switch off your phone or email while you work with an important project, person, or issue. Say “No” in a store to a request for your phone number • you won’t have to say “No” to the Telemarketer next week! Try it on yourself occasionally. Have fun. If you say “No”, listen for the silent and matching yes. If you say “Yes”, listen for the silent no.
Balancing “Yes” with “No” will get easier. Saying “Yes” to the things that matter and no to the things that don’t can become a comfortable habit. When that happens, you have a skill that will help create enduring Work / Life Balance, greater performance and happiness. Try balancing “Yes” with “No” a few extra times this week.
Coaching Inquiries: How could you balance “Yes” with “No” more often? Where could you start on something or someone easy? How could you bring clarity and style into saying “No”? What could you say “Yes” to more often? Which situations and people do you struggle with when balancing “Yes” with “No”?
This Provision, and each Provision in our series on Work / Life Balance, is written by Michael J. Alafaci of www.SolutionMaps.com • Copyright Solution Maps 2005. All rights reserved. You can contact Mike by email or phone, in Australia, at 61-7-3311-5361.
Editor’s Note: The LifeTrek Readers’ Forum contains selections from the comments and materials sent in each week by the readers of LifeTrek Provisions. They do not necessarily reflect the perspective of LifeTrek Coaching International. To submit your comment, Email Bob or use our online Feedback Form..
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May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.
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