If it happens occasionally it is likely to cause some minor irritation or inconvenience which is short lived. But if it has become the way of life it can be extremely damaging to our sense of self worth and in some contexts our health and well being.

There always times when it is appropriate to do things because we want to help or please others, when it is right to do what we are asked by those who have a greater expertise or level of authority. In this context I am talking about an ongoing pattern of saying the opposite to what we really want to do because of something within us, rather than because it is the right thing to do.

There are so many reasons why we say “Yes” even though it is the opposite of what we really want. The circumstances and the motivation for this pattern of behaviour can be vastly different for each person. If you want to change the way you respond you need to work out what is at the heart of your need to respond positively.

Below I have identified some common themes which have come to light during various coaching sessions with clients. It is not an exhaustive list by any means and you may find several of the examples resonate with you:

Low Self Esteem

  • Everyone is more important than me; therefore their needs must be a higher priority.
  • I feel much better about myself when I am doing things for others, even when I ignore my needs to service those of others.
  • I am wary of upsetting other people, if I say no, they will not like me any more.
  • Everyone else knows what they are doing, if I say no it could be the wrong thing to do.
  • I feel guilty if I upset anyone – it is easier to say “Yes” rather than feel bad about myself.
  • I’m always the one who gets put upon – it is my role in life

Saying “Yes” To Get Them Off My Back

  • I can never think of how to say “No” and not upset them. I say “Yes” because at least I have some space …….initially
  • It is just easier to say “Yes” than deal with the fall out – others being cross or disappointed in me. I fear the anger if I upset the person asking, or they’ll sulk, nag, withdraw etc.
  • Saying “Yes” makes me feel good …… to start with. Then I get overwhelmed by how much I have to do because I have taken on too much.

The Person Who Asks Has High Status

  • I wouldn’t dream of saying no to my parents / boss what ever they say goes.
  • If I say “No” I’ll get passed over for promotion

So What Is The Solution

If your sense of self – worth could do with an overhaul you may find it useful to work with a coach. 

There is no single solution but some of the following suggestions may be helpful.

Thinking about life in terms of what is fair and equitable may help.

Think about a pair of old fashioned scales, (the sort with a weigh pan on each side). The fair thing is to treat yourself no better OR WORSE than you treat others. 

Consider each time someone asks you to do something. 

Weigh it out on your scales. Use that as the measure between “yes” and “No”

On balance is it fair and right for you to be asked to do it? If it is – go ahead. 

If you feel that the balance is tipped against you, then it is probably time to say no, unless there are other factors at work.

Do you measure your own performance by the same criteria as you measure others? If not ask yourself why not? 

  • How do you feel when someone says “No” to you? 
  • Does it depend on why and how it is done?
  • Do you stop liking someone simply because they say no?

What do you believe about yourself which makes it right to give yourself a harder time?

How can you say no gracefully without upsetting the other person. 

Remember that the tone of your voice and the body language you use will have an enormous impact on the way the other person interprets your motives..

If you have trouble saying “No” in the first place rehearsing different ways to say no which are both friendly and appropriate can help you avoid being caught on the hop.

You don’t need to go into great screeds of reasons. Keep it simple and avoid lying as you are likely to be found out which will cause bad feeling.

Having some responses rehearsed so you are not caught on the hop can be really helpful. Think about the last few times you have said “Yes” and wish you had said “No”. Now create the script for how you could have said “No” graciously.

Here are some possible examples.

In The Work Context

  • Thanks for thinking of me. I’d love to help but I need to focus on meeting my deadlines, happy to help if those could be pushed back. 
  • I’d really like to help but if I were to do that, which of my other priorities should I put on hold.
  • I can see how important it is but I simply have no space in the diary to give it the time and attention it deserves. I would hate to let you down or do a poor job.
  • Just look at my diary – there is no window of opportunity till ---- I don’t think that will fit with your time scale. It would probably be better to ask someone else.
  • Look I can’t give you an answer at the moment. I need to look at what you require before committing as I hate doing a bad job and wouldn’t want to let anyone down.
  • I’ve looked at **** really carefully and I simply can’t see how I can get everything done in the time available.

In The Personal Context

  • I’d love to see you but I’m afraid I can’t do tomorrow. How about next week? 
  • I’m really sorry I can’t help on this occasion but if you gave me more notice I might be able to help next time.
  • Under other circumstances I would love to help but I’m sorry I can’t help.
  • I’m stumped – normally – no problem but I’m snowed under at the moment so will have to say no, sorry.

Where the person has high status:

  • I really respect / love you very much and the last thing I want to do is upset / disappoint/ let you down but saying “Yes” would mean …..
    • I wouldn’t have time to do things properly
    • I would be doing something I feel is wrong
    • It isn’t the right thing to do
  • Can I suggest ……. as an alternative approach, or
  • How can we come up with something which works for both of us?

When You Feel You Have To Fit Clients In

If you find it difficult to say no to clients who want an appointment and find yourself creating a longer and longer working day you may find it useful to block out time with appointments to yourself.

One client I have worked with is self – employed. She found it difficult to say no to her clients but the result was her working very long days. She was exhausted and her health was suffering.

She found just saying “No” difficult, Her solution was to create a number of mythical clients. . She went through the diary booking in appointments with them in all appointments after the time she wanted to work.

When clients were demanding about her working late she simply showed them the diary and said – sorry there isn’t a space left for those times for months. How about …. Instead.

When you say yes simply to give yourself breathing space

Several clients used to use this as a management strategy. In the first instance it would work giving them a bit of breathing space, however the relief was short lived. They then had to either find space to complete the task in their already crowded diary or go and say they couldn’t do it after all. Both outcomes created stress and had a knock on effect on the way their bosses and colleagues regarded their efficiency and professionalism.

An alternative strategy could be to ask the boss politely: I am rather snowed under at the moment. I’m happy to help but I need a steer – which is the priority. I can do a ---- or b----- in the time scale. Which one would you rather.


I’ll have to get back to you as I need to look at what I can reasonably do in he time I have available. I’d rather not promise something and then let you down. I’ll ring you this afternoon.

With both of these strategies it is important that you are clear about what is a reasonable expectation of you it is not a strategy to be used to avoid doing a fair share of the work.



Done well – delegation can free managers to lead and think strategically with a positive impact on productivity and efficiency. It offers a wonderful opportunity for professional growth and the best use of time and resources.

Many managers talk about delegating to their staff but in reality delegation can often have very mixed results.

Managers approach delegation in a wide range of different ways.

There is the:

  • “Its quicker to do it yourself – at least you know its done properly” style of management 
  • The dump the whole thing and blame them when it goes wrong – I delegated it to you! version
  • I’m going to delegate but I don’t quite trust you so I’ll constantly check what you are doing alternative
  • I’ve delegated to you but I can’t quite let go, so I keep interfering form of delegation
  • I’ve dumped it on you with no clear view of what is required, no success criteria, no time scales, foggy budget and often changing goal posts sort of delegation
  • Delegation to someone with inadequate skill base and no training – ( Delegated to someone with time to spare rather than the right skill set) 
  • Delegation without any autonomy or authority so every decision requires someone higher up the chain to sign everything off

And so many more. Is it any wonder why managers have little time for strategic thinking and management and why time is wasted, stress levels grow higher and staff feel demoralized and de-motivated in some organizations.

If you would like to improve the delegation within your own team you will find How YOU Can Manage Your Staff More Effectively (And Pave The Way To Your Next Promotion) sets out the principles of effective delegation in a clear, jargon free way. By following the process you can be sure that delegation will be done in a positive and empowering way freeing managers up to manage more effectively.

Create a Life You Love

We are running a course for senior managers at IBM this month. It combines a one day course with a series of three coaching sessions. The focus is on managers managing their personal work life balance. There is no suggestion that they need to be workaholics indeed it is designed to ensure that they create a life where they work hard and live well. By modeling good practice they will in turn promote a healthy work life balance for their team.

Recommended Reading

The Artist's Way: A Course in Discovering and Recovering Your Creative Self by Julia Cameron

This is a course of discovery – a way of recovering your creative self. It is designed for people who have recognized that they have the wrong work life balance, who feel burnt out, restless or who feel their life lacks meaning.

The book offers a structured approach to finding your creativity. It offers a daily programme which builds up over a series of weeks to you getting in touch with your inner creativity and how best to use it.

It is thoroughly enjoyable – well worth the time and thought.


How YOU Can Manage Your Staff More Effectively (And Pave The Way To Your Next Promotion)" by Gina Gardiner

Offers lots of practical strategies for managers to help get the very best of their staff as individuals and as a team.

Everything in the book has been tried and tested in a variety of organizations; it is a distillation of over 30 years experience of developing leadership at every level.

The book does not attempt to teach grandmothers or grandfathers to suck eggs, but offers tried and tested principles, strategies and ideas which have been proven to work.

Time, energy and money are all very precious resources and all three seem to be in short supply for most busy managers.

How YOU Can Manage Your Staff More Effectively (And Pave The Way To Your Next Promotion) Can help! Dip into it if you are facing specific issues or use the comprehensive approach to underpin ongoing and sustained individual and team development.

It has relevance for experienced managers who want to share good practice and for aspiring leaders who want to develop and deepen their leadership skills.

The book covers a wide range of issues including

  • Developing strategic vision

  • Creating your dream team

  • Creating a ‘Can Do’ culture

  • Effective delegation

  • Holding people to account

  • Developing a solutions approach

  • The power of anticipation

  • Giving positive feedback

  • Having those “hard conversations”

  • Managing stress for you and your team

  • Creating a good work life balance

"How YOU Can Manage Your Staff More Effectively (And Pave The Way To Your Next Promotion)" will stand alone but you will find it useful to use it in conjunction with the companion book Kick Start Your Career.

This book is designed for new initiates into the business world and graduates who are ambitious and want to create a successful career for themselves. It is a no-nonsense, jargon free manual, full of practical ideas and strategies to support the development of leadership from day one.


"Kick Start Your Career" by Gina Gardiner

This book is designed for new initiates into the business world and graduates who are ambitious and want to create a successful career for themselves. It is a no nonsense, jargon free manual, full of practical ideas and strategies to support the development of leadership from day one.

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