The Mentor's Mind: Say “No” To Say “Yes”

I always blurt out “yes” when someone asks me for something, and then I regret it.


I always blurt out “yes” when someone asks me for something, and then I regret it. I am busy enough as it is; I don’t want anymore on my plate. How can I say “no” and really mean it?


Sounds like you are suffering from yes-woman syndrome. This malady robs you of your energy, your time, and your zest for life. You find yourself so busy doing for others that you have no time for yourself and thus are unable to say “yes” to the good stuff (the Quadrant II activities discussed in last month’s column). It is just as easy to say the word “no” as it is to say the word “yes,” but admittedly for many women, “no” just does not come out of their mouths as easily.

Why is this so difficult? What is it that keeps you saying “yes” more than you really care to? Do you recognize any of these feelings that you use to rationalize your behavior?

You are a nurturer and caregiver.

Pleasing people is at the top of your list.

You worry that people won’t like you if you say “no,” and you want to be liked.

Guilt will eat away at you if you say “no.”

You want to appear busy and important to impress others.

You care what others think about you.

You have a need to feel useful.

People will think you are selfish if you say “no.”

You were taught that it is bad manners to say “no.”

You want to get ahead at work.

You always want to look good in the eyes of others.

You want to be loved.

You want recognition.

You feel responsible for other people’s feelings and don’t want to be the bad person.

You look to others for your validation instead of inward.

You don’t like conflict so you won’t rock the boat by saying “no.”

You have a difficult time being assertive.

Many of these feelings were seeded in your childhood and allowed to flourish as you grew older. Write down the things you keep saying “yes” to and the payoff you receive when you do. Awareness of your feelings is the first step to overcoming yes-woman syndrome. Then make a list of all that you are missing out on in your life when you continue to do for and give to others at the expense of yourself. Be honest. It’s not a pretty picture, is it? Are you now ready to master the word “no”?

Think about it. You do have a choice whether to say “yes” or “no.” Start by giving yourself permission to say “no.” It really is OK. Ask yourself what is the worst thing that could happen if you said “no.” The world won’t fall apart, your practice won’t disintegrate, your family will still love you, and you will still have friends (you might even get rid of the “friends” who suck the life out of you).

So treat yourself by saying “no.” The next time someone asks you to do something you really don’t want to do or have the time to do, call on one of these tips to help you say “no.”

Avoid the knee-jerk “yes” reply and tell the person you will think about it and get back to him or her. It takes discipline to zip your mouth, but it will become easier with time. Check your feelings, be honest with yourself, and then answer.

Adopt policy statements to back you up. “The office policy is that we offer outside financing and no in-house payment plans.” “My policy is to volunteer for one project every year, and I am already committed this year.”

People respect you when you remain true to yourself, so tell the asker that you are saying “no” for your own personal reasons.

Resist the urge to babble on and then realize a “yes” comes out of your mouth. There is no need for an explanation. A simple “no” is OK.

Start out slowly by saying “no” to the easy requests for help. Then remember the word so you can say it again.

If you really do want to help, but find yourself under a time constraint, offer to help part time. “I can’t help all day, but I can be there from 1 to 3 p.m.”

Say “no” and then refer the person to someone else who might be able to offer assistance. This can help soften the blow for you.

Leave your cell phone at home, leave your answering machine on, and turn off the instant messaging on your computer. If you can’t be reached, then it will be difficult for someone to corral you into saying “yes” on the spot. This buys you time to think about their message.

Keep your Quadrant II activities front and center by the telephone and your computer so that they are a constant reminder of how you would like to spend your time and with whom.

Sign up for assertiveness training classes to strengthen your backbone.

Most importantly, give notice to those in your inner circle of what your intentions are and enlist their help in combating the yes-woman syndrome. You will soon find that you can say “no” with ease and mean it. Best of all, you can say “yes” to your life and have more energy, more time, less stress, and more happiness.

© 2005 Stephanie Houseman, DMD
StephanieHouseman, DMD
Dr. Houseman practiced dentistry in St. Louis for 25 years. She is married to a dentist, has two grown children, and understands all too well the demands we place on ourselves. She now works with dentists who want to simplify their lives so that they can enjoy themselves again. She is a graduate of the Coaches Training Institute, creator of the 7 Steps 2 a Balanced Life ProgramThe Balance Beam,” a weekly e-newsletter about balance and life. Reach Dr. Houseman at or (618) 639-5433.

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