It is way too easy to over commit ourselves these days. Overwhelm and an ever expanding to do list are symptoms that we have a problem. According to conventional wisdom learning to say no is key to solving this problem.
But I don’t think the solution to overcoming a habit of over committing is as simple as learning to saying no. I think we must actually get better at choosing yes.
There a lot written about choosing no, so here I want to talk about choosing yes.
Consider that not all “yeses” are created equal. We may say yes, but it doesn’t really mean the same thing in every situation. Every time we say yes to a request that is made of us we choose, consciously or unconsciously, the level of commitment with which we relate to that yes. Furthermore, what we mean when we say “yes” isn’t necessarily what the person who made the request hears.
Being unaware of the context for every yes we give to another person puts both our relationships and results at risk. It is the source of countless misunderstandings and failures. It can make or break the trust in any relationship. Until we become mindful of the context behind each yes we deliver and receive, mischief will rule our relationships and get in the way of achieving the things that matter to us.
Consider that there are three basic levels of commitment that could be behind a “yes”:
- I’ll try my best.
- I’ll do what is being asked of me.
- I promise to deliver a result, and to do what ever it takes, no matter what.
I’ll Try My Best
We may say yes to something, but the level of commitment behind that yes varies. Sometimes “yes” means “I’ll try”. Beware of this one because saying yes and meaning “I will try” can be a great source of suffering in your relationships. It is often the culprit causing frustration from misunderstanding and unmet expectations, not to mention a whole lot of guilt.
Think about it. Someone makes a request of you and you say the word “yes”, but mean “I’ll try”. They are counting on you to deliver. Yet your commitment level does not match what they need or expect. It becomes just one of many items on your to do list and more often than not these kinds of “yeses” continue to filter down to the bottom. Honestly, do they ever really get done?
Like I said, this is a recipe for a breakdown in relationship. And consider “I’ll try” is costing you personally, too. How many items on your to do list fall into the category of “I’ll try”?
Perhaps they are adding to your overwhelm or have become sources of guilt. They may even be doing damage to the trust in your relationships. “I’ll try’s” are like sludge in the plumbing of your productivity: they slow everything down and get in the way of progress. Even worse, they have the potential to damage trust and undermine our integrity with ourselves and others.
Saying yes and meaning “I’ll try” is not choosing. It does not empower you or your relationships.
In the immortal words of Yoda: “do or do not, there is no try”. If you’d said yes in a context of “I’ll try, it’s time to choose. Either revoke your yes by choosing no, or choose yes and get specific about what you will do. It may not even require a conversation – sometimes the best way is to choose yes to just do it and get it out of the way.
I’ll Do What is Being Asked of Me
There are some things on your to do list because you said yes to doing something specific. But make sure there is a clearly negotiated “by when”. If there isn’t, it will fall to the bottom of your list with all those “I’ll try’s”.
There is another potential danger here as well. All too often agreeing to do what is being asked of you is about agreeing to completing the task with no ownership of the result. Make sure both parties are clear about what is actually being promised. All too often people request activities to be completed and expect ownership of the result to be automatic. It’s not. So be mindful of getting caught on either side of this breakdown in expectations.
I Promise To Produce a Result
That means I promise to do whatever it takes to deliver a specific result or outcome no matter what. Too many of these kinds of promises can crush you. When we over promise and under deliver the costs are usually high. Say yes with this level of commitment with your eyes wide open. Consider if you are you really ready to do whatever it takes before choosing yes. And when you do choose yes and make this level of promise the possibilities are limitless.
This level of commitment is the source of being our best and doing our best work. What to achieve something extraordinary? Promise a possibility that you have no idea how to achieve and go for it.
Be bold, be mindful and choose wisely because these are the things you are investing your life in.
Whatever you do, choose. That’s what leaders do. Choosing authentically is an act of personal leadership. The only bad choice is the one you let happen and don’t actually make.
Choose yes or no with your mind and your heart wide open. Only then will you will truly learn the meaning and experience the power of authentically saying yes, as well as enjoy the freedom that comes from authentically choosing no.
This is one of the distinction we cover in depth in The Art of Accountability Webinar/Group Coaching Series. If you are interested in learning more about the program Click Here to request access to listen to a free audio program introducing another one of the key distinctions of the program.