magnifying glass looking at the word yes

The Yes Man

When we talk about “how to say no,” most people know we’re not talking about the physical act of saying no. All of us know how to form the words. At the same time, all of us also know how difficult it can be to actually say those words in the context of a relationship we care about. Saying no to a close friend, a parent, an employer or a colleague fills most people with dread.

At the same time, learning how to say no is necessary for our own mental health. Most of us want to say yes to everything because we want to preserve important relationships, but if we say “yes” too much, we’ll end up feeling burnt out, dejected and resentful of the very people we’re trying to show up for. 

And we don’t want that. So how do you say no? 

How to say no (in two simple steps)

Step one: understand the belief behind saying no

Before we tackle how to say no, we first need to understand why it’s so hard to say no. The thinking beneath the fear of saying no might vary for all of us, but most of us share the same general reasoning: we believe that saying no is going to bruise our relationships. 

Sound familiar? Raise your hand if you’ve ever believed any of these things to be true about saying no to people in your life:

  • If I say no, my relationship with the person I’m saying no to will be tarnished
  • Saying no to a friend too often will end our friendship
  • Saying no might make me lose my job
  • If I say no to a family member, they might hold a grudge against me
  • I say yes to projects at work because it won’t get done right without me
  • Something “bad” will happen if I say no to a friend, a coworker or family member 
  • I don’t know if I can allow or trust my “team” — coworkers, friends or family — to take on responsibilities in my place

If you’ve thought these things before, you might be putting yourself in a box. The problem with doing that is that when you put yourself in a box — whether it’s because you’re afraid of what will happen to a relationship, resentful of someone else’s inability to do what you can do, or angry that someone is asking too much of you — you start to breed resentment for those you’re saying yes to. 

This directly contradicts why we say yes to others. We say yes to others because:

  • We want to maintain a healthy relationship with them
  • We want to make sure work gets done in the workplace
  • We want to nourish bonds with our families
  • We want to achieve things together
  • We want to strengthen connections with those who are important to us

Can you do any of these things when you’re building resentment for someone else in your mind? The answer is no. 

For these reasons, the first step to learning how to say no is understanding that saying yes to everything doesn’t actually help you or the other person. Instead, it hurts both of you in the long run. Once you understand that, step two becomes much easier. 

Step two: saying no to make relationships better

If saying yes all the time breeds resentment, then it makes sense to say no some of the time, right? Saying no some of the time helps you in several important ways, including by:

  • Giving you the energy needed to show up more fully when you do say yes
  • Freeing up your schedule to relax and recuperate
  • Allowing you time to go off and experience other things before reconvening with those you care about 
  • Providing you with a lighter workload and more energy to focus on critical tasks
  • Offering you opportunities to explore things you couldn’t otherwise 
  • Letting go of resentment for others and instead feeling excited and inspired to interact with them

When the reasons are listed out like this, saying no doesn’t look so bad, does it? That’s the secret: if you start to re-frame saying no to things as a way to actually remove resentment and foster stronger relationships in your life, then you won’t feel nearly as bad about saying it.

The larger lesson here is that it’s usually not the thing itself that’s the problem — it’s the way you think about that thing. Instead of thinking about saying no as this horrible, terrible thing that leads to soured relationships and bad endings, think about it as a useful tool for giving you the time, energy and space you need to make your important relationships truly shine. 

Saying no in the workplace 

There’s one final area where saying no might still seem difficult: in the workplace. If you’re the kind of Type A person who thinks you’re the only one who can get the job done (and therefore you’re always saying “yes” to more work), here’s why saying no is also important:

  • Taking on every responsibility in the workplace because “you’re the only one who can get it done right” creates a bottleneck and slows down turnaround time 
  • Saying no to lower-order jobs gives you more energy and focus to do great work on the big, important jobs
  • Saying no doesn’t have to be black and white — you can say no to an expedited deadline while still saying yes to a project; you can say no to part of a project while agreeing to complete another part of it, etc. 
  • Saying no means knowing what you can and can’t take on, and is a true sign of a leader
  • Saying no allows you to delegate tasks to other team members

These are all great reasons why saying no can be helpful at work. Of course, they may not be your reasons… but remember that it’s not about the thing itself. It’s the way you think about the thing.

If you think saying yes to everything is simply the fastest way to get work done, your daily workload will be a slog, and your calendar will be a mess. In truth, you won’t actually get things done faster, because you’ll be too overbooked and burnt out to do it. On the other hand, if you think saying no can be a tool for helping you get work done more efficiently, it absolutely will be. 

So: are you ready to say no? 

If you like high-level coaching advice like this, check out our podcast episode on saying no, and then head over to our website for personalized coaching info

Episode Transcript

[00:00:00] Kim Ades: Hello, hello. My name is Kim Ades, I am the President and Founder of Frame of Mind Coaching and the Co-founder of The Journal That Talks Back. We haven't really spoken about The Journal That Talks Back in a long time, and I thought that I would take a minute to just remind you what we've been up to over the past little while.

A few years ago, one of the things that happened was we were hearing from a lot of our clients who were telling us that they were really struggling with their adult children. They were hearing things like "my daughter is depressed. My son has anxiety. My daughter is stressed out. My son is on the couch all day long playing video games. My daughter wants to be a TikTok star, how do you make money doing that?" And so on. But we are hearing a lot of concerns from parents who are saying, "we're really worried about our kids and we're not able to communicate very well with them".  

On the flip side of that, we were also hearing from employers who were telling us that they were really struggling with the recruiting and retention of their young professional employees. They were saying things like, "we hired these young people, they're super talented, we think everything's going really, really well with them, but then suddenly they quit. We don't see it coming. We don't know why it's happening. We think we're doing all the right things. We're checking in with them. They're saying everything's fine, but it's really not. And we don't know what to do about it".  

And so we realized that these young people in work situations were having stress and they weren't able to go back to their superiors, their supervisors, their bosses to discuss that. They were holding it in and as a way to deal with that stress or that adversity, they decided it was just easier to quit.

And so we decided to create a coaching program specifically for young professionals. I have five young professionals in my life. They are my children, Ferne is one of them and I'll introduce her shortly. But we decided to provide coaching for young people.  

And so The Journal That Talks Back is a system where a young person will get attached or assigned to a coach and they can journal with that coach as much as they want. They go into the software, they can track their mood, their sleep, their stress, their activities. They can choose a journaling prompt and they start journaling.  

And every single time that they journal, they will submit their journal and their coach will read and respond to their journal with advice, with deeper questions, with some challenges, perhaps. But they will be by their side every step of the way. So a person can journal once a week, once a day, six times a day. It doesn't really matter. Their coach will be right there reading their journal within 24 hours.  

So I just wanted to remind you about that service. It's incredible. We're working with some amazing companies right now who are using it with their staff, and we're super excited about that. But if there is a young person in your life who could benefit from some coaching, please, please reach out to us or send them to thejournalthattalksback.com.  

In the meantime, it's The FOM Coaching Podcast and I have my daughter here, Ferne, to chat with us today. Ferne, welcome!  

[00:03:20] Ferne Kotlyar: Hello, how are you?  

[00:03:23] Kim Ades: I'm great. How are you?  

[00:03:25] Ferne Kotlyar: Also great.  

[00:03:27] Kim Ades: So what you wanna talk about today?  

[00:03:30] Ferne Kotlyar: So today I wanna talk about a stereotypical person. This type of person is doing all the things, very, very busy. They accomplish a lot, they do a lot, but typically they do a lot for other people. And so if anybody asks them for anything, they always say yes, and they're just so busy, they have so many responsibilities that at some point they start to get resentful and they start to get upset with all the things they have to do, and towards the people that they're really just trying to help. So what do we do? As that person or as somebody who knows a person like that?  

[00:04:11] Kim Ades: I know a person like that.

[00:04:13] Ferne Kotlyar: Yeah? Do I know this person as well?  

[00:04:15] Kim Ades: You probably do. [Chuckles] Allan and I-- Allan is my husband... Allan and I don't fight often. We have a lot of harmony in our lives, but one of the areas of contention is he thinks I say yes too often, and he thinks that in saying yes all the time, I'm not always taking care of myself. And by the way, when he tells me that, it just makes me angry. [Laughs]  

[00:04:39] Ferne Kotlyar: Why does it make you angry?  

[00:04:41] Kim Ades: It makes me angry because I just wanna do the things that I wanna do, and if I wanna do good things, nice things for people, leave me alone, let me do what I wanna do. But it is very, very true that at some point you get tired, and at some point you feel like there's too much on your plate and there's too much on your shoulders. And it's hard to be everything for everyone, and always be on and always serve. And sometimes you need to replenish a little bit.  

So it's very, very interesting because what it-- I mean, when we work with any client, what we're really interested in is how a person thinks but more so what a person believes to be true. So what do you believe will happen if you say no.  

"I'm sorry, I can't do that today". Or "I'd love to do that for you, it's gonna have to wait a couple weeks". Or "my schedule looks like this right now. Given everything on my schedule, is that a priority for me?" Or "is there another way that that can get done? Can I offer you or recommend another service or another resource that could help you achieve your goals?"  

So, very often we have a belief that says "if I say no, someone's gonna get hurt. I'm gonna look bad. I'm gonna hurt the other person. I'm going to..."  

[00:06:04] Ferne Kotlyar: "Bruise the relationship".  

[00:06:06] Kim Ades: Exactly. "I'm gonna bruise the relationship". And because relationships are so important and we don't want those relationships bruised, we will say yes, instead of saying "no, I'm sorry. I really can't do that right now".  

[00:06:25] Ferne Kotlyar: Yeah. So what's the solution?  

[00:06:29] Kim Ades: The solution is always to start to think about how we think about things, to ask ourselves, what do we believe to be true? What would happen if we did say no? Will the relationship in fact become irreparable? Or is this something that the relationship can tolerate? Is there something in the relationship that acknowledges the load that's on this person's shoulders? Right?  

So we need to ask those questions and we need to ask a few more questions. Like not only is it okay to say no, but is it okay for me not to be the one to do something? Is it okay to ask someone else to step in on my behalf? And you know what? We not only see this among people like me, we see this among business owners who often feel like "hey, it won't get done or it won't get done properly unless I do it".

And so what we're creating is a huge bottleneck in businesses when leaders think that there are some things that can't be delegated, right? So the minute we think like that, the minute growth is difficult. That applies in a business, but it also applies at the human level. Right? So--  

[00:07:44] Ferne Kotlyar: So... Yeah, sorry, go for it. [Chuckles]

[00:07:47] Kim Ades: So it's hard for us to grow as humans when we think in limited terms, and this is a limited way of thinking.  

[00:07:55] Ferne Kotlyar: Interesting. So what I'm hearing is two kind of separate things. The first is that we assume that something bad will happen if we say no, and we should reassess that. Oftentimes we think that something really bad will happen, but probably won't.  

The second kind of big piece I'm hearing is that if you don't-- you can't do everything yourself and that it's important to delegate and trust your team, trust that they can do things as well, and that they can take that responsibility.  

[00:08:27] Kim Ades: Yeah.  

[00:08:28] Ferne Kotlyar: Because, like you said, it would be a bottleneck otherwise.  

[00:08:31] Kim Ades: Right. So that includes trusting your family, your kids, right? And also sometimes raising up your hand and saying, "Hey--"  

[00:08:40] Ferne Kotlyar: "I need help".  

[00:08:41] Kim Ades: "I need help. I'm a little full right now. I'm a little tired. I need your support. I'm happy to support you always, but sometimes I also need support, and this is one of those times". And as parents, as leaders, we don't often feel comfortable asking for support because we have an idea or a set of beliefs that says "well, I shouldn't be asking for help. I should be able to handle this".  

[00:09:03] Ferne Kotlyar: "I'm superwoman".  

[00:09:04] Kim Ades: "I'm superwoman. I should be able to do this. It's my responsibility. Nobody else can fill those shoes". And so what ends up happening is we run ourselves ragged and then there's not much left. There's not much energy in that body, in that mind to give what we really wanna be giving.

[00:09:27] Ferne Kotlyar: And so what happens when somebody does become resentful? How do we move on from the resentment? From the lack of energy? Like, if we've already gone overboard, we've already done too much. How do you move on from that?  

[00:09:39] Kim Ades: So we work with a lot of people who come into coaching resentful.  

[00:09:43] Ferne Kotlyar: Oh yeah?

[00:09:44] Kim Ades: Absolutely. They come into coaching and they say, "I'm doing all this stuff, my partner's not doing any of it". Or "I'm doing all this stuff and the people on my team aren't pulling their weight" or whatever it is.  

[00:09:54] Ferne Kotlyar: And they're not getting recognized.  

[00:09:56] Kim Ades: They're not getting recognized. They're not fulfilled, they're tired. They feel like people around them don't get it, people around them don't have the same sense of urgency, they don't move as fast, they're not as smart. All of those things. Right?  

And what we need to do is kind of like slow them down for a minute and say, hold on a minute, let's really look at how you're seeing things and how you're thinking about things. And what we discover very often is people who are like that, and a lot of them are type A personalities who are kind of like, "Hey, get outta my way and let me just get stuff done" kind of people. I'm like that sometimes.  

[00:10:34] Ferne Kotlyar: [Laughs]  

[00:10:36] Kim Ades: Those people don't often understand that they're not giving others the opportunity to support them, they're not giving others the opportunity to grow, they're not giving others the opportunity to try things out and make mistakes. Right? And what we do is we challenge the way they operate. We challenge the way they think about the people in their lives, what they are responsible for and what others can be responsible for.  

[00:11:07] Ferne Kotlyar: We, as in Frame of Mind Coaching.  

[00:11:08] Kim Ades: Exactly, Frame of Mind Coaching, we end up lightning their load. And one of the things we teach, and I think this is very, very important is the way you feel is a hundred percent your responsibility. So when you feel resentment, you've created that experience for yourself. And so, if you don't wanna feel resentment, then we have to reconsider how we're approaching the people, the tasks, the responsibilities, the expectations, all of that.

And we have to kind of roll it back, deconstruct how we show up, how we communicate, how we operate from the very minute to the much more global things that we're dealing with. Right? What we find is that when we feel resentful, we've created a situation where we are a victim in these relationships, and that doesn't work. Not for you, not for the people you're in relationship with.  

[00:12:12] Ferne Kotlyar: So how do you... I mean, a) stop feeling resentful, but also kind of take responsibility for everything, every single feeling you have? I mean, sometimes external forces impact your feelings.  

[00:12:25] Kim Ades: Sure, they impact your feelings, you can decide how long you wanna feel like that for. Right? And you can also decide like, what are the options available to you? But the thing is that when we find someone who's in a state of resentment, because other people aren't pulling their weight, we often discover more underneath that.  

[00:12:49] Ferne Kotlyar: What else?  

[00:12:51] Kim Ades: We'll discover that that person isn't asking for help. We might discover that that person often steps in when it's unnecessary. We might discover that that person doesn't give others a chance. We might discover that that person takes on things that other people can easily do. Right? We might discover that that person thinks poorly of others. And so in that sense, they are discrediting or discounting other people's contributions. And so what we see is a lot more than meets the eye.  

[00:13:28] Ferne Kotlyar: Absolutely.  

[00:13:29] Kim Ades: Right? And so we wanna look at all of that, and then we wanna give them opportunities in their real lives, in their real specific situations to change a little bit their approach so that they don't have to take so much on.  

[00:13:48] Ferne Kotlyar: They don't have to take so much on and help other-- kind of not only have a better perspective of others, but give others a little responsibility as well.

[00:13:56] Kim Ades: That's right. And so the idea is when we coach people, we coach them in their real lives. We don't take them away from their lives and then say, "okay, here's this perfect environment where you're gonna be the best self that you can be". No, we coach them in their real lives and we ask them to journal every single day so that we can capture and catch the moments when they're having exchanges with people and feeling that resentment.  

So we're starting to pick up the patterns in like, so what's happening to get you to the place of resentment. "Oh, I see what's happening. Every time your husband says, 'Hey, can you do this for me?' You just say yes, and you're muttering under your breath and it bothers you, but you're still doing it, and you're thinking to yourself 'you could do that. What's wrong with you? Are you a baby?'"  

[00:14:44] Ferne Kotlyar: [Chuckles]  

[00:14:45] Kim Ades: Right? And you have all this chatter that goes on in your mind. And we start to pick up like "here's the trigger. And you could say, 'sure, I'll help you. Maybe a little bit later on', but you're not doing that. You're dropping what you're doing and you're addressing it. Do you have to do that? Is there a different approach? Did he say, 'I need it done right now'".  

So, what we see is that people make assumptions too. And those assumptions create actions that then create resentment. So we deconstruct it and every person is different. Every person is an individual and we wanna see, like, what is it that you are doing? What are the interactions you are having? What is the role that you play in creating this dynamic that leaves you feeling resentful? And that's what we wanna do.  

[00:15:34] Ferne Kotlyar: And I'm assuming you do that with more than just resentment, with all the...  

[00:15:39] Kim Ades: All the emotions.  

[00:15:40] Ferne Kotlyar: ...emotions. Yeah. [Chuckles]  

[00:15:40] Kim Ades: All the emotions.  

[00:15:42] Ferne Kotlyar: Even the good ones, so you can reproduce them.

[00:15:45] Kim Ades: Exactly. Even the good ones. And what we are interested in, in people's emotional states. Why? Because when you have more positive emotional states, you have a richer life. When you're living your life with a lot of negative emotional states in a consistent way, you're not having the best life experience. And my goal is to help people having an amazing life experience. That's my goal.  

[00:16:12] Ferne Kotlyar: Makes sense to me. Well, thank you!  

[00:16:15] Kim Ades: Thank you. That was a good question. I'd love to get some examples where people actually feel resentment, if any of you have those examples where you maybe have a situation in your personal or professional life where you might feel resentment or where you know someone who feels resentment, I'd love to hear about that because it's always easier to talk about something that has a little bit more tangibility to it.  

But thank you guys for listening. Thank you for the topic today, Ferne. And if anyone wants to reach us, how do they reach you?  

[00:16:47] Ferne Kotlyar: Please email me. My email is Fernekotlyar@live.com.  

[00:16:52] Kim Ades: And you can reach me, it's Kim@frameofmindcoaching.com. We will catch you next week. Have a good one, everyone.  

[00:17:00] Ferne Kotlyar: Bye!

Latest episodes