Ten Things to Say Besides Yes

Posted 05.25.2021

It seems like every week I speak with executives who tell me they’re burned out or exhausted. And why wouldn’t they be? Everyone has been on a full out sprint for the past year as we’ve run the biggest business social experiment in history. And now, after more than a year of 10 to 12 Zoom meetings a day (that’s the average I’m hearing), COVID vaccinations and the freedom they bring have unleashed a wave of pent-up demand to pack even more into our days.

Lots of folks are headed for a crash if they don’t master the art of answering the next request for their time and attention with something other than an unqualified, “yes.” In the interest of preserving your health, sanity and well-being, I’m offering ten things you can say besides, “Yes,” when someone asks you to attend their meeting, join their project or take on another commitment. Practicing these ten phrases and having them in your hip pocket to use when needed will enable you to collaborate with and support your colleagues without sinking yourself in the process.

Here’s the list organized by three categories of response:

The Yes, But Responses

A Yes, but response positions you to help but with conditions. Examples include:

  • Yes, but with these conditions. – This one helps in setting parameters and boundaries.
  • Yes, but not now. – This one is about prioritizing the request against other commitments.
  • Yes, but not me. – This is the one to use when someone on your team is better suited to follow through.

The Learn More Responses

Answering with a learn more response can help you clarify what the request is really about, how much it matters and what the options are for following through. Examples include:

  • Tell me more. – This response is almost always appropriate even when you’re inclined to say yes. The more context sharing and alignment up front the better. You’ll be better positioned to make a sound decision on whether to participate or not after you’ve heard more.
  • Why now instead of later? Like the, “Yes, but not now response,” asking, “Why now?” can help a lot in prioritizing your time and attention.
  • What about some alternatives that don’t require as much? This question can help in determining if a solution needs to be 100 percent perfect and optimal or if a good enough solution is good enough for now.
  • What else would work or help instead? This question casts a little broader net than the last one in that it can open up entirely new lines of thinking on options.

The No, But Responses

The “No, but,” response is the way to go when what’s requested of you isn’t the highest and best use of your time and attention but you still want to be supportive of the colleague making the request. Examples include:

  • No, but here’s what I can do. –  This one sets you up to make an offer of help that’s within your range of available resources.
  • No, but what if we tried this instead? – This response protects your boundaries while providing some alternatives that you could support and participate in.
  • No, but I wish you the best. – Sometimes, there’s nothing more you can do than to offer your good will and best wishes. It’s way better to do that than to commit yourself to something that you really don’t have the bandwidth to follow through on.

So, there you go. Ten things you can say besides, “Yes,” the next time you’re asked to take on an additional commitment of your time and attention. If you found value in this article, you may also like my recent post on How to Decide Which Meetings to Skip.

In the meantime, what’s been working for you in terms of staying engaged with and supportive of your colleagues’ initiatives without overcommitting yourself? Please share your advice in a comment if you’re reading this through LinkedIn or send me an email if you’re reading this on the Eblin Group blog.

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