The hand goes up in the air and we can’t believe our ears as we hear ourselves, once again, saying “Sure, I’ll do it” – even though every fiber of our being is imploring us to “Just say no!”

The ability to graciously decline, when it’s in our best interest, is key to maintaining a healthy work/life balance and a healthier life in general.

Many of the women I’ve interviewed for my books, This Is Not The Career I Ordered and the forthcoming, Thrive Where You Are, have found a successful balance in their lives because they’ve exercised their power to say NO. Angela Jia Kim is one of those women. Angela is owner of Savor Spa & Boutique, in NYC’s West Village, where clients are treated to a variety of pampering services featuring her organic Om Aroma skincare line. When Angela was offered the opportunity to open multiple spa locations, she reported that she was tempted, but ultimately said no so that she could maintain a balance between work and personal time with her husband and young daughter. Her plate was already full.

Disease To Please

For many of the women in my coaching practice, and those I meet travelling across the country, always saying yes plays into a deep-seated need for approval. Some women fear that they won’t be well liked, will feel left out, or that they’ll miss the opportunity of a lifetime if they turn off the auto-yes responder.

A number of the women I coach are routinely pouring their hearts into the nurture and care of others, forgetting themselves in the process, so they find it particularly hard to say No. Some, who have what is often referred to as the disease to please, have even said that they view saying NO as a weakness. They feel bound to say YES out of guilt or obligation.

The Art of Saying No

Making a knee-jerk commitment can leave us feeling overwhelmed, angry and powerless. I’ve been in that hard-to-say-no place, and I’ve learned, from experience, that it’s important to have firm boundaries for the well being of body, mind and spirit. Author, Susan Newman helps foster a greater awareness of these boundaries and how to stick to them in The Book of No: 250 Ways to Say No and Mean It.

Susan says that saying NO is a learned art, and she offers the following personal inventory to help put the art into practice. The next time you’re on-the-spot for a yea or nay, ask yourself these questions:

  • Do I have the time?
  • Will I feel pressure to get it done?
  • Will I be upset with myself?
  • Will I be resentful of the other person?
  • Will I feel duped, had or swindled?
  • What do I have to give up in order to do this?
  • What can I gain? (What’s in it for me?)

For those occasions when you are face-to-face or on the phone with the asker and feeling pressed to make a decision, I encourage you to have the phrase Let me get back to you at the ready. Then step back, take some time, and ask yourself the above questions. From there you’ll, hopefully, be able to answer from a more grounded and rational place.

Saying NO is about setting priorities, boundaries, and respecting what is humanly possible for you. I encourage you to put yourself at the top of your list and embrace the power of a good strong NO!

With over a decade of career and professional development coaching experience, Caroline Dowd-Higgins has a desire to empower and energize people to achieve their personal goals.  Her training style is engaging, high energy, and positive with a focus on unlocking the self-advocate within each of us.  Read more from Caroline at