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How to say NO when you’ve already said yes – even at the last hour!

Have you ever said yes to something when you really should have said no? 

Maybe it was a project or an opportunity that seemed really great at the onset, and as time went on, something shifted. Time will do that to you. And your self-worth will perk up if it’s been comprimised.

Especially if you rushed your yes when you should have thoughtfully said no.

Sometimes, your self-worth is loud enough that you can’t help but check back and see if what you said yes to was really worth it to begin with. 

As leaders, we can find ourselves saying yes to everyone and everything often, at the expense of our own wants or needs. It’s inevitable to struggle with this especially when you know you should have said no to at least one of the dozen commitments you’ve made if not more.

I see this, particularly in women. Overcommitting to projects, opportunities or people thinking we can manage it all and, in some cases, undervaluing our own worth at the same time.

We sell ourselves short and give away the goods (our time, energy and resources) leaving us feeling ick and unappreciated. Myself included.

I found myself in this very situation recently where I was given an opportunity that had me saying a big YES – initially. Unfortunately, as time went on and more people got involved, it very quickly became about checking off a box and less about what I had to offer.

Have you been here before?

The invitation starts with an ask, it feels right, the more time goes on, the more requests come up and seem to benefit the other party (and many, many others) and you’re left out of the equation?

I originally said yes and when circumstances changed, recognized, I should have said no. And boy, did I realize it immediately.

My mind quickly began analyzing the experience from the initial invitation to, how do I gracefully say this no longer works for me? More importantly, why had I allowed myself to say yes when I had the opportunity to say no?

Prematurely invitations were sent out, the date was set, people were expecting me to show up and give my best. But something just wasn’t right.

And it wasn’t. 

I quickly went into looking at this opportunity from multiple angles and thinking what would happen if I didn’t move forward?

There was fear of judgement.

Fear of looking bad.

Fear of disappointing others.

I felt all the above and ultimately made the best decision for me. There was honest communication with the other party, transparency and my self-worth thanked me. In the end, lessons were learned.

Face it. This is bound to happen if you haven’t already experienced it and in most cases, we’re inclined to stick to something even when it no longer feels right. No one wins in those scenarios and it prevents someone who IS a better fit to step in.

If you’ve struggled with saying no to something important to you after you’ve said yes, there are ways to gracefully back out. And yes, you’re allowed to change your mind when something feels off. 

Here are a few things that helped me make this decision easier:

Being honest and transparent with myself – we often expect others to be honest and transparent with us and we owe it to ourselves to do the same. It’s sometimes the hardest thing to do and why most people will avoid looking in the mirror to own their role in a situation. This isn’t about beating yourself up and, instead, reflecting, on the experience. Some of the questions I considered were: What was important about saying yes to begin with? Does it align with my values and what I stand for? What’s changed since the invitation and is it still in alignment?

Values check – we know in business how important values are and rarely do we see them truly lived by in the world of corporate. As an entrepreneur, they are a guiding force and one of the easiest ways I measure opportunities against. Our actions always show us what we value no matter what we say. They either match up or they don’t. In this case, I went back to check if my original yes was made against my values and if not, I sat with why not? What made me say yes when I had the chance to say no.

Win-win or win-lose – no matter what the opportunity is, a win-win is a must. This looks different for everyone and doesn’t necessarily mean it’s tied to monetary value. There’s an exchange of value for all parties involved and if that happens to change over time, I need to pay attention to that. 

Gut check – my gut was telling me as we were inching closer to the date of this opportunity that something wasn’t right. The requests that had come up were only in the best interest of the other party and didn’t include me. I couldn’t ignore that and decided I needed to revisit this opportunity with a different lens. 

There are so many instances when saying no to something you’ve already said yes to can have far greater risks if you back out of it. This isn’t a one size fits all solution! These are useful checkpoints you can’t go wrong with if you have to go back on a commitment that you find yourself unable to honour after you’ve already made a commitment.

Ultimately, you decide how to move forward even after going through the above.

With good reason, if you need to rethink an opportunity that no longer fits remember, you’re allowed to walk away. Honesty and kindness go a long way and we need more of them in life and business.

I’d love to know in the comments! Have you ever had to back out of a commitment after you already said yes? How did you make the decision?

Lisa ❤

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Lisa De Nicola

Lisa De Nicola is an Intuitive Leadership Coach and a Corporate Magic Maker (a Trusted Advisor who believes in Magic) dedicated to helping businesses bring out the essence of their biggest resource - their people. She coaches bold leaders to help them become the Director of their life so they can do business and life on their terms. With 15 + years of corporate experience working in the world of talent for multi-national, global organizations, Lisa shares her knowledge, spiritual tools, practices and business insights to leaders looking to transform the way they lead from the inside out.

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