Learning to Say No & When You Don't Owe Explanations

A case of chronic people pleasing....


As someone with anxiety and an inherent need to not have people mad at me, saying 'no' has always been difficult and over-explaining my actions became as second nature as breathing. If a manager wanted to know if I could take on extra tasks, I would say yes and over-commit even if my bandwidth was actually full. I was afraid to refuse and this often led to me feeling quite burnt out or overworked.

I was also in a situation where I was leaving a job and my manager was overtly inquisitive about what came next to me on a granular level, to the point where I felt uncomfortable by the questions. It's possible they were just being curious, but I couldn't help feeling like, "do I really owe this much of an explanation?" 

If you find that question on your mind in a situation like that, that's a red flag.

Learning to put on the brakes

It feels like, as a woman especially, it can be hard to say "no" because there's this inherent need to acquiesce and accommodate that feels ingrained into us from childhood. So "can you stay late?" "can you work on this last minute big priority reporting that really isn't priority even though it's 4pm Friday?" and the like become instantly responded to with "yes" with little consideration for many reasons. Worry that saying no will mean punishment, that saying no looks lazy, that saying no will mean conflict. I'm incredibly guilty of this behavior to the point where my colleague and desk mate called me out on it because it upset her to see how much I was piling onto myself and clearly feeling the strain.

Here's the thing to keep in mind, that I need to keep in mind: you can't succeed at the important things you need to do if you keep bogging yourself down with a pile of tasks. Critical priority tasks drown amongst a sea of lower level work you said you'd take on when you weren't necessarily obligated to do so. The more I said yes, the more I was the go-to person instead of work being delegated across the team. What I should have done was truly weigh the asks against my priority tasks and been honest and said "no, I don't have the bandwidth" or "no, I cannot get this done today but we can revisit this on Monday" etc. etc. If you do not set up consistent boundaries, it's incredibly easy for others to take advantage of your time and when it comes to work time really is money.

And then there's on the personal level; you're the friend everyone asks favors of and it's great and all to be selfless, but are you being taken advantage of? Does that friend also have your back? Relationships are give and take and not one person taking advantage of the other. If someone is really your friend or partner, they should be able to hear "no" and it doesn't upturn the apple cart. If it does, you might want to really think about what kind of person that friend is.

When to be candid and when not to...

Remember my earlier anecdote about my manager asking me about what came next? I should not have felt compelled to answer in as much detail as I did. I should have given a short, polite answer and asked to move to another subject. It was not related to the current company and they were not owed that much of a answer to be honest. End of day they were my boss, not my bestie. 

This ladders up to a wonderful point Chelsea of The Financial Diet made in one of her videos that's worth driving home: your boss should not be your BFF. You do not owe your colleagues or bosses explanations for your personal life when it has absolutely shit all to do with your job. I did not set up these boundaries well in the past and paid for it.

You can certainly be friendly and share some details of your own volition, but you need to maintain a line in the sand to keep personal and professional clearly set apart. It's one thing to become friendly with colleagues, I certainly do, but again, your boss should never be like your best friend. 

Also, make sure to be clear on what you are legally obligated to share. Don't fall into a trap of oversharing or explaining aspects of yourself because you feel you have to, there are some things an employer by law SHOULD NOT and CANNOT ask you. For example, now in 2018 come springtime, it's illegal for employers in California to ask you previous salary history. 

These are things I'm hoping to work on in 2018, and maybe we can work on it together.

Do you deal with these issues? How have you overcome these things? Let me know in the comments.