The Art and Power of Saying “NO” -Physician coaching clears the path for fulfillment and impact

It’s a common experience- someone asks us to do something and, while our heart and gut are screaming, “NO!” we hear the word “yes” come out of our mouth.

Woman Scientist: Stop SymbolWhy and how does that happen? And, more importantly, how can we change that behavior so our response reflects our true desire?

When we find ourselves saying yes, it may be for a variety of reasons. Unfortunately, we rarely take time in the moment to examine our priorities so we can come up with the most appropriate response. Instead, old patterns, such as wanting to please others, not believing we have the right to say no, a fear of missing out, or a variety of other worries hijack our response system.

One protective approach is to invoke an automatic response. “That sounds like an interesting idea – let me think about it and get back to you,” buys some time so we can consider the pros and cons in a safe environment, without the pressure to please.

Then, we can sort through our values and decide whether the opportunity aligns with them or not. This alone may help us decide to say yes or no.

Another important step is to imagine how much time the new project will take. By consulting our calendar, we can see if we have time for this. If not, our answer may be simple. And if we still want to say yes, what might we have to say no to in order to fit this new commitment in?   Conversely, if we say no, what might be possible instead? Often, when we hold one option up next to the other, we see clearly which is the wiser use of our time. If we truly don’t have time to do a good job, it’s always better to decline. Otherwise, we’ll end up disappointing others with poor quality or late work. Our reputation is built on the integrity we show and the product we produce, rather than on our willingness to say yes if we end up turning in poor quality or late work.

Many of us feel guilty if we refuse various offers, as we don’t want to appear selfish or not a team player. Yet, if we decline an offer, it may create an opportunity for someone else to step up. Who might be good at this besides us? Who might appreciate the chance to learn or receive some recognition?

In the end, if we decide we don’t have the interest or time to accept the offer, there are a number of ways to say no that still maintain our connection to the person who asked. We can offer to do part of the project, to work on it after a certain date if time is the issue, or to work on another project if we just don’t have an interest in the current offer. And, if none of these responses fit, we can offer our encouragement and acknowledge the importance of their efforts – these are important sources of assistance as well.

By becoming more skillful at discerning where our time is best spent and learning to say no, we’ll have more time for the things that are truly a yes for us.  Only in this way can we are live our most fulfilling lives and have the most impact in the world.

About Helane Fronek

Over the past 28 years I have had a fascinating and fulfilling career in medicine, initially practicing as a general internist and then as a procedural specialist, caring for patients with vein disorders. As Assistant Clinical Professor of Medicine at UC- San Diego School of Medicine, I’m thrilled to be teaching medical students crucial communication skills along with many other aspects involved in the practice of medicine.
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