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Learning To Not Be A ‘Yes’ Person

November 06, 2018 Silvia Damiano

When someone asks to pass the salt, it’s common courtesy to pass the salt. But what if someone asks you to type a report (that isn’t your responsibility), or to walk their dog (on your break), or to stay a little late to finish up (when you are salary & not hourly)? Do you automatically say yes? Are you a yes person?


Performance allows us to expand our brain’s ability to create, find purpose, and live according to the principles that call us. The rise of neuroscience allows us to be mentally, physically, and emotionally fit. Understanding how the brain can undermine our value system will help us adhere to our personal ethical sense.1


While we may say yes to certain tasks because we feel kind, or generous, it doesn’t mean that we should be perceived as a pushover. Several research studies have examined whether inhibitory control occurs unconsciously. One such study found that an unconscious stimulus could inhibit a motor action.2

This means that unconsciously, we may be programmed to default to yes. Instead of looking up & saying no, we simply go along with the status quo and what is expected of us. However, learning how the brain works during the decision-making process can create the conditions for better decisions to be made with the right ethics.


Honing mental health is just as important as a healthy body. Always saying yes to situations at work, at home, or socially is draining, physically, mentally, and emotionally. Effective leaders cannot do everything themselves. While it’s important to model generosity, kindness, and thoughtfulness, leaders have to be able to sometimes say no.

Learn to set boundaries. In short, learn to say no. Don’t guilt and shame yourself. Say no to people and things you don’t want. It is your right, it is your time, it is your energy.

Akiroq Brost

There is a fine line between giving out of love and kindness and giving because you feel compelled to. A healthy relationship, be it professional or personal, should have some give-and-take. But, you can’t always be the one to give.


Saying yes can almost be an addiction or an automatic response. Retraining the brain to stop for a moment and consider more options is possible. Learning strategies or tools to tactfully handle situations where you are expected to do things you ethically don’t agree with or things that you simply don’t want to bother with is critical in achieving a sense of satisfaction and higher effectiveness in what one does.

Before you automatically say yes, consider these possibilities.

  • Is this a favour? The saying “I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine” is indicative of life in the business world. If you owe someone a favour, then return it, if you can. However, don’t do something that compromises your ethics or makes you feel uncomfortable.
  • Don’t be afraid to say no. “No” is a complete sentence, and you don’t always have to feel obliged to explain or lie about your reasons. If you are going on holiday, you have the right to disconnect from the office. If you constantly find yourself in a position where you are persuaded to say yes, perhaps it’s time to put out feelers and talk to connections. Life is too short to be unhappy.
  • Determine and stick to your priorities. Everyone has a job to do. When you are asked to do something for someone else, take a moment to determine if it is a priority to you. While walking someone’s dog while they are out of town for a few days is nice, doing it every day without compensation is being taken advantage of. Figure out what you need to accomplish, and then stick to it. And remember, there is more to life than making money.

You can maximise performance while adhering to your ethical values. Stop focusing on everyone else and relax. Performance is not a static quality and it can be increased for a happier, more successful professional and personal life. Learning to say no sometimes allows you to maintain your ethical values and keeps your mind and body healthy.

Take a leap into the future!  In this White Paper we look at the arrival of the Imagination Age, while  exploring a new model and the leadership development techniques that we will  need to learn, in order to thrive in the future of work.   To learn more download a free digital copy!  Download White Paper

1. Hughes F, Velmans M, de Fockert J. Unconscious priming of a no-go response. Psychophysiology. 2009;46, 1258-69.
2. McLennan K. Building Leaders for the Imagination Age: The Case for the i4 Model. About my Brain Institute. 2016;1. [White Paper].

Silvia Damiano

Silvia Damiano

Scientist, educator, author, speaker, coach, award-winning leadership specialist and filmmaker. Silvia is the Founder & CEO of the About my Brain Institute, creator of the i4 Neuroleader Model & Methodology, author of ‘Leadership is Upside Down’ and director of the 2018 documentary ‘Make Me A Leader’.

Silvia is passionate about leaving a legacy of well-rounded leaders who can act and decide in a way that better serves humanity. Her clients include Microsoft, Australian Stock Exchange, NSW Government, VISA, Fuji Xerox and Manpower amongst many other global companies.

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