The ‘yes’ ‘no’ conundrum

I bumped into a former colleague last month and in our conversations, she shared a work incident that has since then lingered in my mind. Over the years she had carefully cultivated for herself the image of a ‘yes’ person. Someone who was always ready to lend a helping hand. Her generosity and time for others spawned across different functions and at times she was really the ‘go-to’ person for assistance. Today, however, she mentioned a dilemma the ‘yes-es’ had got her into. She no longer has time for herself or her work. Her own priorities are now at the bottom of the rung.

Then there was another colleague who had the problem of saying ‘no’ to anything that came his way professionally. He felt that acceptance of any work would serve a dual purpose – he would be in the good books of his manager and also learn something new. Alas, very soon the realisation dawned that he was being pulled into doing administrative work. His skills and competencies in the area of strategy were sadly left underutilised.

The conundrum

The above two situational examples are classic of the ‘yes’ ‘no’ conundrum that we all go through in our professional journey. Irrespective of which sector or field you work in, there are bound to be instances wherein you feel you are doing something that you rather wish you had not said ‘yes’ to. Or are missing out on the real growth opportunities just because you were not able to say ‘no’ to other irrelevant tasks.

How does one really navigate these situations? The key is balancing both – the quest for applying your skill sets and at the same time lending a helping hand where required. It is when the balance is titled unfavorably towards the latter that we end up losing on our own growth.

Tips for achieving the right balance: –

  1. List down your strengths and areas of growth

Making this list should not be difficult but many of us avoid doing it. Our focus instead gets turned on what we are not good at. By listing your strengths and areas of growth you are on the alert for opportunities that provide you with that kind of exposure. Keep looking at this list. Refresh as you traverse the path. Add new skills to pick up. This list should be on top of your mind.

  1. Observe your role models

We all have our own role models. It could be our parents or our schoolteacher. Or someone whom we met in our office or an influencer. Whoever it is that you admire, reflect on what is it that you really admire about your role model. Next, observe how your role model responds to the life’s tricky situations. Role models are supposed to inspire us. So, get inspired.

  1. Respond and do not react

When pushed to doing something that does not sit easy on us, our first instinctive reaction is often reactive and defensive. Practice being ‘responsive’ instead of being ‘reactive.’ It is perfectly alright to ask for some time to think over a proposal or a task that is being given to you. Chew on it for a couple of days. Once you have gauged the merits of the task, you will be in a better position to articulate your standing. Your answer will now be backed by facts. A response is always made intelligently whereas reactions are often emotion driven. Think intelligently.

  1. Get over your fear

We often compromise our values and our stance because we fear being left out. The more confident you are of your own self and aware of what you seek, the clearer you will be in your answers. Many times, the underlying fear of losing out on a job or an important assignment by saying ‘no’ is just that – a fear. An unjustified fear that limits us from growing.

There may be situations wherein saying ‘yes’ when you mean ‘no’ maybe a good decision at that moment. Just be aware that you do not go down the ‘self-sacrifice’ route.

Remember, if you cannot learn to say ‘no’, your saying ‘yes’ will hold little merit. It is how you stand up for what you believe in is what really matters in the end. Stay authentic to your own self.


The views and opinions published here belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the publisher.

Sarita Bahl
Country Group Head CSR at Bayer - South Asia
Sarita Bahl leads the Corporate Social Responsibility function for Bayer South Asia and is also the Director – Bayer Prayas Association. Prior to this, she successfully oversaw the communications and public affairs function for Bayer South Asia. Over her three decades of professional experience, Sarita has held multiple roles across diverse industries, public sector, trade associations, MNCs and the Not-for-profit sector. An alumnus of Tata Institute of Social Science and the Swedish Institute of Management Program, Sarita specializes in stakeholder engagement, sustainability and communications. She is passionate about animals (is mother to a female cat), books and movies.

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