Say NO to the Yes Man: How (& Why) to Say No Politely

May 15, 2024

How & Why To Say No Politely

You know that Jim Carrey movie from 2008 called Yes Man?

The one where his character goes to a weird self-help seminar and starts blindly saying Yes! to every single opportunity that comes his way?

While it made for some great laughs on the big screen (personally, I loved it!), the problem is that some people really DO suffer from the effects of constantly saying yes — not for the thrills (like in the movie), but because they are desperate to avoid conflict and keep everyone, including themselves, happy.

But that’s not sustainable in the long run.

And it’s definitely no comedy.

In fact, it can be a massive — and serious — problem. 

man looking stressed and pulling his hair -- looks like a disney pixar image

The Steve Story

Let me tell you a story about a man called Steve. 

Steve was the ultimate people-pleaser. 

Whether it was working late (again) to help a co-worker hit a deadline, volunteering for that community project nobody else wanted to do, or saying yes to every social invitation — Steve just could not say no.

His life was a constant chaotic whirlwind of overcommitment and subsequent exhaustion.

He was always the one putting out fires, scrambling from one favor to the next, and neglecting his own self-care along the way.

Steve lived in a constant state of feeling stressed, overwhelmed, underappreciated and low-key resentful toward the world.

His friends lost count of how many times they’d try dragging his butt out for a drink after work only to get hit with, “Can’t man, I’m swamped with this [insert random commitment] tonight.”

Little by little, his friends stopped inviting him and he soon found himself almost friendless.

To make things even worse, a routine doctor’s visit revealed he was showing signs of serious adrenal fatigue and worrisome liver enzyme levels.

The doc took one look at Steve’s overpacked schedule and fired back, “This lifestyle you’re leading is only going to lend one way: In complete burnout. Whatever it is you’re doing, you need to stop it. Today. Before it’s too late.”

Steve’s inability to politely decline requests and set boundaries had finally caught up with him — in a major way.

The good news was that it was the wake-up call Steve needed to start practicing the fine art of “no.”

But it wasn’t an easy transition for Steve to start turning people down — even politely.

Old habits die hard when you’re a lifelong yes man. . . 

However, he started implementing a few well-rehearsed scripts for gracefully declining things that didn’t align with his goals and priorities:

He’d created three that he thought would work for almost all occasions:

3 Ways to Say No (In Style)

The Polite Buffer

Blaming Schedule Conflicts

Empathy Statements

There are, of course, many other polite ways to say no with politeness and respect, but the three above at least gave Steve a way to start saying no without being absolutely terrified.

The first few times he tried it, he took a deep breath, spoke them like a mantra and crossed his fingers and toes, hoping for the best.

And you know what?

Most reasonable people were understanding.

The world didn’t end.

No-one shouted at him.

And he didn’t get fired.

Setting Boundaries & Self-care

Instead, he realised that by putting up some strategic boundaries and taking back control of his time/energy, he actually had breathing room to invest in his OWN goals and self-care for once.

Gone were the days of him forever bending over backwards and exhausting himself for other people’s happiness. Now was the time for Steve to start enjoying his own life, on his own terms.

And it can be the same for you, too. 

The Takeaway

Hopefully Steve’s story can inspire some of you fellow people-pleasers out there.

Because at the end of the day, you can’t light yourself on fire to keep others warm.


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