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The Science of Saying No – and why it’s so important

By September 9, 2019April 9th, 2024No Comments

It’s the modern day dilemma everyone seems to be talking about. We seem to have less time and more stress. Yes despite these things, we find ourselves saying “yes” to tasks we just can’t do.

Saying yes is ingrained for some of us. We’re guilty of overcommitting. Even if we’re not the right person for the job, even if saying yes massively contributes to scope creep, even if it’ll make the day too busy to really fathom. Personally and professionally, saying yes easily becomes second nature.

There’s science in this, saying yes makes us feel good at the beginning. Psychologically, there are four main reasons we avoid saying no, even when it’s necessary.

1. Nice People say yes: 

Subconsciously, saying no is linked to feeling like we might ‘upset someone’ or ruin a personal or business relationship. We’ve been conditioned to believe that saying yes helps us to maintain respect and our reputation. Yes makes some seem reliable in both professional and personal circumstances. Nice people say yes – and so we tend to feel more accepted when we say yes.

2. Scarcity Mentality: 

Also known as Fear of missing out (or FOMO for short). We don’t want to miss out on a rare opportunity, experience or reward, in case it isn’t present again.

3. Reciprocity Principle:

‘You get what you give’. This social norm leaves us feeling obliged to say “yes” in fear that one day we’ll need a favour in return, and hopefully we’ve amassed enough good deeds to receive one.

4. Our Duty & Role: 

Be it a new business partner, a client, or your boss asking for something big or small. Relationships and roles often leave us feeling obligated to say yes. The theory being – . If we can, then we should.

“More time, less stress, higher quality” 

Learning to say no

The reality is, no one person can do everything. Learning to say no to even 1-2 tasks a week can have significant benefits to your productivity, stress levels and capacity for personal growth. There’s been so much written on teaching yourself to say no, but we’ve put our four mental check boxes below;

  1. Don’t automatically respond – Think about the request before you say yes. Do you truly have time to complete it? Is it something you want to do? Is it something you should do?

  2. Could the answer be ‘Yes, but…’? – Maybe this is something you really need to or want to do. Can the timeframe be lengthened to make it more realistic? Can someone else do part of the task?

  3. What’s the opportunity cost? – Saying no can be difficult, but what is the cost of saying yes to this request? Will the time it takes prevent you from doing something more valuable or important? What will it cost you to complete the task (in time, energy and money)? What might suffer as a result?

  4. What’s the worst that comes from saying no? – Often, we make saying no seem worse than it actually is. Logically, what will happen is you reject this request? And how can to manage any problems that might arise?

If you’ve always been a yes person (which I absolutely have) then learning how to say no, and trying to work out how to choose what’s a yes and what’s a no opportunity is a constant learning curve. But, each time we say no successfully, Confidence and assertiveness build. Learning to say no can improve your ability to handle conflict, help you manage your workload and give you the breathing space to do what really matters.

Got a story about when saying no has been a good thing? Or a time it’s backfired? Email them to us here – or head to our social channels to continue the conversation!

Riley Malins

Author Riley Malins

Riley's expert advice on streamlining your business processes with SuiteFiles.

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