Balance Beyond Yes or No


As I’ve admitted, I’m a recovering people-pleaser. By my nature, my default response to any request is yes. This tendency led me down a slippery slope in my life. The following excerpt from my book, Navigate Chaos, walks you past the expected “yes/no” defaults to help you balance your commitments. Look for Navigate Chaos on Amazon on October 10.

In his book Language and the Pursuit of Happiness, Chalmers Brothers defines four valid responses to an effective request. They are as follows:

  1. Yes
  2. No
  3. Commit to commit
  4. Counteroffer

I previously lived my life as though the first two responses were the only options. My default response was yes, and it pained me to say no. People trusted me and valued my support. I didn’t want to let them down.

I started my rehab by adopting a new default response. For twenty-one days, I decided I would respond to any request, big or small, with a commitment to commit.

“Steve, would you like to go to lunch today?” “Let me get back to you in five minutes.”

“Steve, can you pick up the kids from practice tonight?” “I’ll check my schedule and let you know within the hour.”

“Steve, can you volunteer this Friday evening at the church event?” “I’ll discuss with my family and confirm with you tomorrow morning.”

“Steve, can you manage this proposal effort for the team? It is due in two weeks.” “Let me see if I can rearrange my other work and family commitments for the next two weeks. I will let you know within twenty-four hours.”

“Steve, we would like to offer you a new job as the Director of Environmental Accounts!” “Let me think about my options and discuss them with my family and mentors. I’ll let you know by 5:00 p.m. on Friday.”

Big or small, I practiced for three weeks not making an immediate commitment to requests. It was hard. However, I discovered that I was much more inclined to say no after I had the opportunity to assess the request more thoroughly in light of other commitments and priorities.

Having defined a values-driven mission and the priorities of my life, I’m better prepared to make decisions relative to the requests I receive. I use that mission, my stated priorities (and associated routines), and any identified slack as a filter for these decisions. If a request didn’t reinforce my values and priorities, or if I did not have sufficient slack in my schedule, I said no to the request.

Now, many of you may be saying “This is nice in theory. But I work for a boss who doesn’t accept no for an answer. I don’t have the same flexibility in my professional life that I may have in my personal life.”

I get it.

Like anything else, your response to a supervisor warrants some balance. In cases where requests are presented as nicely packaged demands, you can consider the option of a counter-offer. “I’m happy to fulfill your request but could use your help in determining what to take off my plate for the next week to ensure I have sufficient time to complete this new request.”

The point is to recognize the options available in response to requests and take ownership in more effectively managing the commitments you make. Don’t be a victim of what you may see as the unreasonable demands of others. As Chalmers states, “Learning how to say no can serve us. It is a powerful tool to enable us to manage our commitments. Without it, managing commitments is virtually impossible, and we very quickly realize that others are running our lives.”

Once you improve your ability to manage your commitments, it’s important to continue living and acting in a way that demonstrates you’re someone who follows through on your commitments. You will be both trusted and trustworthy.

By being more intentional in my assessment of requests, I’ve restored some semblance of peace in my life. I now accept that a no response is not a rejection of the requestor. Rather, it’s a rejection of the offer and a reflection of the value I place on the priorities in my life.

Manage your commitments. Leverage your values, purpose, and priorities as a filter to make decisions regarding what you will or won’t do. Don’t surrender control of your peace, fulfillment and healthy balance to the expectations of others or, worse yet, our culture. Be a shining example of what it means to both give and receive clear requests. Honor your word.

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