Learning To Not Be A ‘Yes’ Person

3 min read
6 November 2018

When someone asks to pass the salt, it’s common courtesy to pass the salt. But what if someone asks you to type a report (that isn’t your responsibility), or to walk their dog (on your break), or to stay a little late to finish up (when you are salary & not hourly)? Do you automatically say yes? Are you a yes person?

Performance allows us to expand our brain’s ability to create, find purpose, and live according to the principles that call us. The rise of neuroscience allows us to be mentally, physically, and emotionally fit. Understanding how the brain can undermine our value system will help us adhere to our personal ethical sense.1

Generosity And Always Saying ‘Yes’ Aren’t The Same

While we may say yes to certain tasks because we feel kind, or generous, it doesn’t mean that we should be perceived as a pushover. Several research studies have examined whether inhibitory control occurs unconsciously. One such study found that an unconscious stimulus could inhibit a motor action.2

This means that unconsciously, we may be programmed to default to yes. Instead of looking up & saying no, we simply go along with the status quo and what is expected of us. However, learning how the brain works during the decision-making process can create the conditions for better decisions to be made with the right ethics.

Bringing Balance To The Body And Brain

Honing mental health is just as important as a healthy body. Always saying yes to situations at work, at home, or socially is draining, physically, mentally, and emotionally. Effective leaders cannot do everything themselves. While it’s important to model generosity, kindness, and thoughtfulness, leaders have to be able to sometimes say no.

Learn to set boundaries. In short, learn to say no. Don’t guilt and shame yourself. Say no to people and things you don’t want. It is your right, it is your time, it is your energy.

Akiroq Brost

There is a fine line between giving out of love and kindness and giving because you feel compelled to. A healthy relationship, be it professional or personal, should have some give-and-take. But, you can’t always be the one to give.

How To Put Yourself First, For Once

Saying yes can almost be an addiction or an automatic response. Retraining the brain to stop for a moment and consider more options is possible. Learning strategies or tools to tactfully handle situations where you are expected to do things you ethically don’t agree with or things that you simply don’t want to bother with is critical in achieving a sense of satisfaction and higher effectiveness in what one does.

Before you automatically say yes, consider these possibilities.

  • Is this a favour? The saying “I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine” is indicative of life in the business world. If you owe someone a favour, then return it, if you can. However, don’t do something that compromises your ethics or makes you feel uncomfortable.
  • Don’t be afraid to say no. “No” is a complete sentence, and you don’t always have to feel obliged to explain or lie about your reasons. If you are going on holiday, you have the right to disconnect from the office. If you constantly find yourself in a position where you are persuaded to say yes, perhaps it’s time to put out feelers and talk to connections. Life is too short to be unhappy.
  • Determine and stick to your priorities. Everyone has a job to do. When you are asked to do something for someone else, take a moment to determine if it is a priority to you. While walking someone’s dog while they are out of town for a few days is nice, doing it every day without compensation is being taken advantage of. Figure out what you need to accomplish, and then stick to it. And remember, there is more to life than making money.

You can maximise performance while adhering to your ethical values. Stop focusing on everyone else and relax. Performance is not a static quality and it can be increased for a happier, more successful professional and personal life. Learning to say no sometimes allows you to maintain your ethical values and keeps your mind and body healthy.

1. Hughes F, Velmans M, de Fockert J. Unconscious priming of a no-go response. Psychophysiology. 2009;46, 1258-69.
2. McLennan K. Building Leaders for the Imagination Age: The Case for the i4 Model. About my Brain Institute. 2016;1. [White Paper].

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