Career advice

The power of saying no: how to avoid taking on too much

It can be hard to disappoint others, but always saying yes can endanger your well-being

It can be hard to say what you really want and potentially disappoint others, but continually saying yes can endanger your well-being

How many times have you heard yourself saying yes when inside you are screaming no?

Whether it is agreeing to extra shifts, staying late at work or giving extra pocket money to your kids, the affect is the same you end up doing things you really dont want to do.

Avoiding the vicious cycle of saying yes to everything

As a one-off, this can feel okay; everyone has to compromise, after all.

But it is easy to get caught up in a vicious cycle of wanting to say no yet giving the

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It can be hard to say what you really want and potentially disappoint others, but continually saying yes can endanger your well-being

Picture: iStock

How many times have you heard yourself saying ‘yes’ when inside you are screaming ‘no’?

Whether it is agreeing to extra shifts, staying late at work or giving extra pocket money to your kids, the affect is the same – you end up doing things you really don’t want to do.

Avoiding the vicious cycle of saying yes to everything

As a one-off, this can feel okay; everyone has to compromise, after all.

But it is easy to get caught up in a vicious cycle of wanting to say no yet giving the opposite message – and the more this happens, the more other people will expect you to agree to whatever is being asked of you.

This can leave you feeling drained and out of sorts, as if you have no opinion or have lost your voice. Which, metaphorically speaking, you have.

The good news is that this cycle can be broken. The key lies in learning how to speak up for yourself.

I’m old enough and certainly grey enough to accept that we all have to do things in our working and personal lives that we don’t want to do. But 2020 has been an exceptionally difficult year, with nurses’ goodwill stretched to near breaking point.

You don’t need to shoulder all the responsibility

Nursing revolves around teamwork, so of course there will be times when the only option is to roll up your sleeves and get on with it. But there is a significant difference between pulling together in a crisis and feeling you are responsible for solving all the issues around you.

If you are asked to work an extra shift, for example, you do have a choice and you can say no. This can be hard when you know the team is short-staffed, but you have a duty to take care of yourself as well as others.

Ultimately, your manager needs a solution to their problem and they may try to convince you to say yes.

These requests can often be emotionally loaded, but the way the request is framed is not your responsibility. Giving a clear and honest answer, however, is.

Tips for saying ‘no’

● When you are asked a ‘can you/would you’ question, give yourself some time to respond. If a quick answer is required, count to ten so you can think before you speak and take a few breaths

● Speak calmly and clearly and don’t overanalyse the situation. Your mind will be weighing up all the options but the person making the request needs clarity

● Don’t feel you need to offer an excuse or apology, and don’t beat yourself up for refusing a request

  • Be kind to yourself and be flexible. Knowing how to say no doesn’t mean you will never say yes again, it just gives you options

Standing up for yourself is not an aggressive act

So why do so many nurses find it hard to say no? Part of the reason could be the negativity attached to being assertive, with some people associating standing up for yourself with being unhelpful or aggressive.

There is also the idea that nurses are superhuman, but neither of these views are true, and it is possible to speak your truth calmly and compassionately.

‘If you are asked to work an extra shift, you can say no. This can be hard when you know the team is short staffed, but you have a duty to take care of yourself as well as others’

Why you feel compelled to say yes

If you struggle to say no, try asking yourself these questions:

● What is stopping you from saying no? Be honest with yourself: are you scared of being disliked or do you feel you have to please everyone all the time?

● Do you need to re-frame what ‘selfish’ means to you? Self-care is an essential component of resilience and is not optional, nor is it a bad thing.

● What affect is saying yes all the time having on your health and well-being? What are you missing out on? Does it also affect your friends and family?

I have worked hard at speaking up and putting my needs in the picture. I hate rows and tension – my natural place in my family was the peacemaker, but I have learned that this role doesn’t always help me as an adult.

It's a work in progress, but I’m definitely getting better at saying a kind but firm ‘no’.


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