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What are you saying Yes to?

publication date: Nov 19, 2018
author/source: Janice Cunning

How many times in the past week has someone asked you to do something? I suspect more times than you can easily recall.

We get requests to attend meetings, take on tasks, lead projects, join committees, or offer advice. And those are just the work requests.

This is where a simple and powerful coaching concept can help: Saying Yes, Saying No.

We need to remember that when we say yes to something, we are by default saying no to something else. In other words, there will be a trade-off. When I think about the people I most admire one thing I notice is that they live with intention. They know what is most important and prioritize so they are saying yes to the best opportunities for them. They have also found a way to say no that is graceful and firm.

Too often in our work lives we say yes without much reflection.

When I worked as a research consultant, I was invited to attend meetings related to new client engagements. These meetings gave our Vice Presidents a chance to brief the team on new clients and their project needs. Some weeks I was attending two or three of these meetings. Since my role was to provide strategic research to our clients, those 2-3 hours took me away from my most important work.

As a consequence I was saying no to:

• Focused time to do research

• Being able to complete my assignments during work hours

• Feeling confident that I could complete my work well and on time.

For me this last consequence was the most impactful and started to make me feel pressured and stressed. Since my job required creative thinking and accuracy this impact was not serving me or the organization.

Quickly I realized the impact of saying yes to attending these meetings. I approached my manager with an idea for a yes that would allow me to gain the information I needed about new clients and still have time for focused work. We simply asked that the information relevant to my role be delivered in the first 10-15 minutes of these meetings. Then I would leave the meeting and gain back 45 minutes to focus on client work. In other words I said a modified yes.

It was a simple solution and one that became clear only when I stepped back and considered the impact of saying yes.

Next time you are asked to attend a new meeting or take on a new project, take a few minutes to reflect. Grab a piece of paper and on one side clearly write down what you are saying yes to. Then on the other side consider the time and attention it will need. Write down what you would have to say no to.

This simple and powerful technique will allow you to make an intentional choice. A choice that will allow you to focus on your most important and impactful work.

Janice Cunning, Leadership Coach at, is passionate about partnering with fundraisers to help them create an inspired vision that transforms lives.

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