The difference between saying “Yes” and “No”

In my reading recently I came across this statement and, unfortunately, I can’t remember where I read it or who made the comment (so I credit you, whoever you are!). You may have heard a version of it before, but this version really resonated with me.

“When you say no to something, you are saying no to that one thing. But when you say yes to something, you are saying no to everything else.”

The statement in itself made a big impact on me. Traditionally, we are followers of the “yes” culture, not wanting to disappoint anyone, miss an opportunity (yes, I’m talking to all of you FOMOs out there!) or appear unable to deliver whatever it is we’ve signed up to. I’m not afraid to put my hand up and admit I’ve thought and felt all of these at some point in my life.

What is the difference between a yes and a no?

“No” seems so finite. Non-flexible. Direct. Closed to discussion. Well, at least that’s how we have interpreted it within society over the years. We’re told to be open, flexible, approachable etc., so how does “no” allow us to do that?

After some thought on this, I really started to challenge what saying “yes” really meant to me. When I think about what this statement is saying in terms of everyday life, these are the examples that come to mind…

  • When I say yes to staying back late, I’m saying no to my spouse, my children, my health, my friends, my hobbies/interests, my extended family etc.
  • When I say yes to procrastinating or putting off a task/activity, I’m saying no to the deadline I committed to, my team relying on me to deliver, me targets/KPIs/goals etc.
  • When I say yes to another project/client/report etc., I’m saying no to my existing team commitments, my existing client commitments, my personal growth and development commitments, my mental health and wellbeing, my physical health and wellbeing.

You get the picture. There is always a cost trade-off. We can’t take on more without letting something go.

Change your view, change your perspective

I’ve started to use this statement with my clients recently to further drive discussion around some of the issues and challenges they are facing. What I’ve started to realise is that the mindset we have towards these two words is what is driving our use of them, more than just the actual meaning of the words. In my examples above, on face value staying back late doesn’t look so bad if it means you get a task completed and off your desk prior to tomorrow’s workload; if it means you get to tick another thing off your To Do list; if it means you’re moving one step closer to whatever the goal/outcome is. We’ve created the belief/wiring in our brain that getting the job done is worth a yes.

Looking at it from the perspective that we miss out on time with family and friends; missing out on a gym session, focusing on re-energising for the upcoming day etc, it starts to become less inviting to simply say, “yes sure – happy to stay back.” All of a sudden, that one yes becomes a multiple of no’s…the very thing we were trying to avoid in the first place.

Is “no” the new “yes”?

Well, possibly. As always, it comes back to your purpose, what are you trying to achieve and why that is important to you. Thinking more broadly about what you are actually saying “yes” to before doing it could help you become more comfortable with actually saying “no” more often. If saying “no” means you move closer to your desired outcomes quicker…that’s a “hell yes” from me!

I would love to get your thoughts on this, and how you approach managing what you say “yes” and “no” to. Please reach out and start a discussion with us.


If you’d like to find out more, join the conversation in our next open workshop.