It is easy to say "yes" when we know we ought to say "no." It is easy to promise delivery on promises with unrealistic deadlines. These are "promise checks" that we are unable to cash.
Why would we say yes when we should not, or promise to reach deadlines that are unrealistic? Let me suggest that there are often three reasons. First, we want to be liked and a "yes" to a request is an unconscious response that we hope will bring affirmation. Second, if we are conflict adverse, a "yes" when we should say "no" is clearly easier. Third, some of us are just wired to help others out so it seems to be the right thing to do. However, these can quickly backfire on us when we are unable to deliver on our promises. In not delivering we produce frustration in others and guilt in ourselves and finally, with time as our most precious possession, we eat up our own time with activities that we should not be engaged in.
It is easy to say "yes" in the moment and to regret that "yes" in the longer term. Every promise has a price tag attached that will require our time and attention. When we say yes to the wrong things we will create issues for ourselves and others. Most of us have done it and most of us have later regretted it. There are also people around us who may use our propensity to say "yes" to offload responsibilities they have.
How can we avoid this trap, especially when we feel we need to answer in the heat of the moment? My first suggestion is to develop a standard answer that gives you time to evaluate the request. Saying, "Let me think about that and I will get back to you," gives you necessary time to think through the request before you make a promise.
Then there are some questions we need to ask ourselves:
- If I agree to the request, do I have the time to fulfill it in the time frame requested?
- Is this request something that I am truly responsible for or is it really someone else's responsibility?
- Am I trying to feel good, make others feel good toward me or am I simply avoiding the conflict that might come if I say "no." In other words what are my motivations to agree or disagree to the request?
- Will my "yes" create negative a impact for me with my time or energy, those around me like my family when I need to spend extra time working or will my "yes" take me away from more important work that I am responsible for?
- Is the request consistent with my priorities or will it detract from things that are more important in my life and work?
Asking these questions will often bring us to conclude that we should either decline the request - or modify the timetable. Of course that raises the question for the conflict adverse as to how they will communicate that back to the one asking for your time and attention.
One does not need to give all the reasons that you decline a request. The more you share, the more insecure you will come across and some people will take advantage of that. A simple answer like, "I appreciate the request but as I have thought about it I realize that I am full up at the moment and need to decline" will suffice. In most cases you don't need to justify your answer. Just be straightforward with your answer.
As hard as it is for some of us to say those words, it is deeply liberating when you realize that you did not add time and energy to your already busy life and you did not write a promise check that you cannot cash.