10 Times When Saying No is More Responsible Than Saying Yes

Meggin McIntosh
4 min readJul 28, 2023
iStock by Getty Images: BeritK

So many times, we say yes because we’re trying to be good people, be helpful, serve others, show we’re part of the team, step up when others haven’t, be liked, etc. While those may be good reasons to say yes sometimes, consider the times when it’s far more responsible to say no.

  1. When you are going to resent any aspect of the commitment, e.g., the person who asked you, the people around you connected to the commitment, the time you’re putting into the commitment, the effort involved to live up to the commitment.
  2. When you are overwhelmed to the point of exhaustion (emotional, physical, mental, spiritual).
  3. When you are approaching overwhelm. I’m hopeful you have paid attention to yourself over the years and know when you are approaching overwhelm. Given that you have experienced it before, you know that is not a good place for you and your other responsibilities.
  4. When the commitment conflicts with your values. Of course, you can’t know what conflicts with your values if you’ve never explicitly examined them. Unfortunately, too often people acknowledge the values conflict when it’s happening or even afterwards. Better to know what your values are and have clarity on what is in line with your values and what isn’t.
  5. When you are not able to fulfill the request due to your training, your physical abilities, or your demeanor. There is a difference between being willing to try something out of our zone of expertise, experience, and education and taking on something that would be unproductive and unprofessional to say yes to. For example, I am an excellent teacher, however, if someone asked me to teach a graduate course in macroeconomics or a ropes course, it would be irresponsible for me to say yes!
  6. When taking on anything in addition to what you already have committed to will require that your other commitments suffer — and those commitments are higher priority. If you are working toward tenure and having single-authored articles in high impact journals is considered EXTREMELY IMPORTANT at your university, and you say yes to serving on a committee that meets every Friday afternoon for 4 hours for the entire semester and Fridays are a key writing day for you, then it would be potentially irresponsible to your family who will have to move (again) if you don’t earn tenure.
  7. When you have not plumbed the truth of what saying yes to this request means. How many times have we said yes to something that turned out to be something completely different and we say, “If only I had know ____, I would never have said yes to this.” Set a policy about never saying yes without getting all the information you can about the commitment. I recently taught one of my Flash Classes on this very topic: “Questions to Ask BEFORE You Commit to Projects (and Make Sure You Get the Answers!)” I’ll be posting some of those questions in future articles, if you weren’t there for the class.
  8. When the commitment is far enough in the future that your future self will question why your current self didn’t say no. So often, we avoid saying no (because if this needed to happen now, it would for sure be a no) by pushing the commitment out into the future. And then you get to the future and think, “WHAT WAS I THINKING AND WHY DID I SAY YES TO THIS?”
  9. When your intuition, gut feeling, spidey sense, or whatever you call it is telling you something about the request. You may not be able to name exactly what’s wrong but all your wise brains are telling you that something is not right here and so proceed with caution.
  10. When you have a unique event that IS happening or you know is coming and you must leave space for it even without knowing exactly when you’ll need it. When your daughter is pregnant with twins. When your partner is getting close to defending his dissertation. When your mother’s dementia is progressing at scarily rapid speed. It is far more responsible to say no now than say yes to something you have to back out of when you desperately need the time and energy to deal with whatever is happening in your personal life (twins, dissertation, dementia).

I’d be interested in other times you think it’s more responsible to say no rather than yes. It helps reinforce some truths for all of us.

Meggin McIntosh, known as the PhD of Productivity® is a coach, writer, and teacher. Her company is Emphasis on Excellence, Inc. located in beautiful Reno, NV.

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Meggin McIntosh

Meggin McIntosh, “The PhD of Productivity®”, invests time & energy with people who seek ways to be overjoyed instead of overwhelmed. https://meggin.com