Stop Saying Yes To Things You Don’t Want To Do

How to stop saying yes to things you don’t want to do, with people you don’t want to do them with

I’m a yes person.

Two years ago, I would’ve described being a ‘yes person’ as a positive and motivational way to live my life. At 27 years of age, I’m beginning to disagree with that statement. In fact, I think I’ve even written articles in the past specifically about the brilliance of being a yes person. Well, I take it all back.

Throwing caution to the wind if you’re an anxious person can be hugely rewarding. I have enjoyed some great achievements and experiences by just throwing myself head first into projects. But, when people start to learn you’re a yes person, you’ll find yourself bombarded with extra tasks and added responsibility with no real way of saying no, I don’t bloody well want to do this. 

So lately, I’ve worked on saying no. Just simply; no. Not ‘no, but…’ or ‘no, because…’ just no. This blog post is designed to help you pick up the skills you need to stop saying yes. And no, this isn’t for entitled people to get out of doing things they know full well they need to do. It’s to stop the nice ones amongst us taking on too much of other people’s baggage and taking on unnecessary tasks in the process.

Make a list of what you want to achieve

Huh? How is this going to help me get out of taking my colleague’s mate’s dog to the vets this weekend? Be patient little one – all will be revealed.

We’ve all got goals. I’ll use my goal to illustrate my point. I’d like to become a published author who can make a living from writing books & articles. So, when it comes to saying ‘yes’ to things unrelated to my family/friends, I only to say ‘yes’ to things that are going to get me closer to this overall goal. I am going to attend a freelance journalism seminar at The Guardian soon. I am not going to be writing about diet pills on my blog because the company deems my writing to be worth $50 for 800 words. Keep your goal at the forefront of your mind when making decisions about what to do and what to cut out.

Basically, you do you.

Decide who you actually like

Your friends and family are going to ask you to do stuff you don’t want to do. It’s an inevitable part of life and unless you’re a complete idiot who wants to end up with no friends and a family that doesn’t like you, you should go ahead and do these things.

I consider myself a nice person and I don’t often say no to my friends or family. Given they’re all pretty decent human beings, too, they don’t tend to take advantage of the fact I’m a yes person. It’s a reciprocal agreement and it works really quite nicely.

Then there are the others. For you, these people might come in the shape of bosses, work colleagues, acquaintances, people you met once at a networking event and now want to bleed you dry of all your good will. This is where you really need to draw the line, my friends. You know your line; you might even have family members who wear your patience thin with their constant requests. But it’s time to cut down on these outlandish requests and live a life that allows you to actually spend time with the people you want to spend time with, doing the things you want to do.

Where to start

My first tip is to stall. Here’s my two classic sentences I like to use when I’m caught off guard;

‘Sounds good. I’ll let you know.’

‘I will check my diary and come back to you. I think I might have something on that day.’

Dependent on the severity of the request, you might want to consider the following options before saying yes; how stressed is it going to make me? Will I be under pressure to do this? Will the person who I say no to be emotionally scarred by my decision? Do I have the time to do this?

If the person has asked to borrow a pen – these might be a little bit too in-depth – for me, they’re not. I really don’t like people using my stuff. So, reserve these questions for big decisions that you’re really not sure of. Remember, once you’ve said yes you are expected to do it. If you say no you can always change your mind at a later date.

Beware of flattery

‘Wow, you’re so good at writing, would you mind writing my CV for me?’ It’s a hell-to-the-no. Apart from if you’re me 3 years ago, of course.

I’ve been caught out by this technique more times than I like to admit. If you’re unsure, just use your stalling sentences and have a think about what they’re asking you to do. An absolute classic that I used to get thrown at my at one of my previous jobs was ‘you’ll have no problem doing that by Friday, right?’ Yes actually, Amanda, I would have a problem with that. Amanda is a metaphorical name for so, so many people.

My friend has a sentence she uses for these types of people – ‘that sounds like a you problem’. That’s why she’s my friend.

Don’t bombard people with excuses

With every excuse you throw at someone, you’re giving them wiggle room to adjust the plan or further ruin your life.

You: ‘Sorry, I can’t do that time because I’m meeting a friend for lunch.’

Them: ‘No problem, we’ll do it at 2pm instead.’

You: ‘Ok. Great.’

Instead, a simple ‘I can’t make that call’ or ‘I can’t do that day, go ahead without me’ will suffice. You have to give your reasons to people you really care about – obviously – you can’t receive your best friend’s wedding invite and reply with a ‘sorry, I can’t make that day’. But I trust you’re all smart enough to make those calls by yourself.

Do not say sorry

Ok, I’m still so bad with this one. I’m working on it, ok. It’s a very British thing to over-apologise for every tiny little thing, but you must stop. I say sorry to everybody for everything; if somebody treads on me on the tube, cuts me up on the escalator, pulls out in front of me in their car – you name it, I apologise. And then, I silently sit and resent the fact I’ve apologised to them.

Well, no more! We’ll work on this together. I am no longer apologising for not adding to my burden with other people’s attempted burden offload. You are no less or more important than anyone in this world, and your time is no more or less precious either – if you don’t want to do it, you don’t have to grovel. I’m talking to myself here, just as much as I’m talking to you guys.

Don’t be scared of the end result

Firstly, saying no is never as bad as you think it is. When I say no, palms sweating, hair falling out in clumps, eyes pouring with tears and the person responds by saying ‘ok, no problem.’ I breathe a sigh of relief like no other. I just said no and the world didn’t implode.

You’ll realise quickly after you become an expert no-sayer that people don’t really care if you say no all that much – especially if they’re trying their luck by asking you anyway. You’ll have more time for you and they’ll potter off to find some other yes-person to taunt. It’s an epic win-win.

If they do get upset/angry/rude you have two questions to ask yourself;

  1. Should I really have said yes to that and am I just being a selfish moron?
  2. Are they really that nice of a person if they’re going to put pressure on me to do this?

One of the questions will resonate with you every time. For the sake of my well-meaning advice, I hope the latter one is the one that resonates and you haven’t just taken this blog post as an opportunity to be a complete arse.

So here’s your homework; say no to one thing you don’t want to do this week. Report back with your findings. Go, go, go…








A writer and author with two published books and a third one on the way. I write mostly about women's interest topics; travel, careers and cooking. I'm available for freelance work, so please contact me if that's of interest.

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© Caroline Elvin 2017.