“Yes” Can Be Costly

Your desire to help others often results in your saying yes, only to discover how costly that yes is later. Here’s a personal experience to illustrate this point.

Nearly costly yes

We’ve used this travel agent for two Alaska trips, a planned trip to the Galapagos which Covid has postponed and for which she negotiated a healthy refund. We were thrilled with the result of each of her efforts. 

Then we used the same agent to plan a trip to Maine and the wheels came off. We weren’t getting timely information much less very useful information. We were scratching our heads wondering why such a seemingly simple trip could be so difficult to plan. When I posed this question to the travel agent she told me that this type of trip didn’t fit their business model.

When I asked her why she didn’t simply tell us that she said “I enjoy working with you two so much that I wanted to help you in any way I could.” Her desire to say yes to us almost cost her a client. Fortunately, we had a very constructive conversation and are committed to working with her again in the future…when it makes sense for the type of trips she arranges.

Potentially costly yeses aren’t limited to business transactions. We can experience high costs when saying yes in purely personal relationships.

Personal situations

Saying yes to a request from a dear friend or family member seems like the right thing to do. In reality, it can cost you the relationship you treasure.

Who among us hasn’t said yes to a request when we knew that we:

  • Felt overwhelmed with the commitments we’d already made.
  • Knew we didn’t really want to do what was requested.
  • Felt ill-equipped to do what was requested.

As you recall instances in which you said yes when you knew it wasn’t the right thing to do, recall what happened. In all likelihood you:

  • Failed to deliver on time.
  • Rushed through the project so quickly that it was fraught with errors or omissions.
  • Frequently made excuses explaining why you had to postpone the deadline.
  • Were so overwhelmed that you lost sight of the commitment you made and failed to deliver anything.

In each instance, you risked:

  • A relationship with someone dear to you by leaving them wondering whether you really care about them.
  • Your reputation as someone who can be relied upon.
  • Your competency; people wonder whether the mistakes and omissions were the result of a rushed effort (another sign that you don’t care) or lack of skill.
  • Future involvements with that person that you might have found fun and exciting.
  • Opportunities from others that weren’t offered to you because you now have a reputation for missing delivery deadlines. People do talk.

Value of no

In each of the instances cited above:

  • Felt overwhelmed with the commitments we’d already made.
  • Knew we didn’t really want to do what was requested.
  • Felt ill-equipped to do what was requested.

here’s what you gain by saying no:

  • Respect for your honesty.
  • Appreciation for the fact that you want the person to get the result they desire and you won’t be a hindrance in their effort.
  • Reinforcement of your reputation as someone who cares.
  • Continuation of your reputation as someone who is reliable and competent.
  • The possibility of future opportunities with this person and others.
  • Retention of a valued relationship.

Armed with this awareness, how can you use it to your advantage?

For you

Intuitively, it seems easier to say yes even when you:

  • Feel overwhelmed with the commitments you’ve made.
  • Knew you don’t really want to do what is being requested.
  • Feel ill-equipped to do what is being requested.

But as we’ve just discussed, saying yes is costly in these situations.

When faced with requests that fit any of these three categories, pause. Evaluate whether you:

  • Have the time to honor the commitment you’d be making.
  • Really want to do what’s being requested.
  • Feel well-equipped to do what’s being requested.

If the answer to any of these evaluations is no, do yourself and the other person a favor and say no. Candidly admit that you’re overwhelmed, simply not interested or ill-suited to the task. If possible, suggest someone who is better suited to help them achieve the desired result. They’ll appreciate the fact that you care enough to say no.

If the person becomes insistent, you need to become equally persistent in saying no. If that ends up damaging the relationship so be it. A person who insists that you take on something that would become a burden to you doesn’t really care about you. 

For our kids

First and foremost, live this message. Kids learn more by observing our behavior than by what we tell them. As they question you as to why you said no to someone you care about, you can explain to them the high cost of saying yes in each of the instances cited above.

Then explain to them what they gain by saying no in these situations and how to evaluate requests made by others. These are lessons that will serve them well throughout their entire life. 

Let others know that you love them by sharing this blog post. They’ll appreciate that you care.

I love hearing your thoughts and experiences, please share your thoughts in a comment.

If you’d like to enjoy great confidence, check out our Confidence Self-Study programs (opens in a new link). 

If you’d like to enrich the lives of others by teaching them to be more confident, check out our Teaching Confidence Instructor Certification program (opens in a new link).

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2 Responses

  1. bill.prenatt@simplysuccessful-llc.com

    Dale, Thank you for your invaluable insights. My experience has been positive with making/not making commitments when I think in terms of ‘finishing’. If I can finish on the timetable that is mutually agreed upon with the desired quality of the ‘ask’ I have found positive experiences.

    • dfurtwengler

      Bill, I hope I’m not reading things into your reply, but I also sense that you don’t take on projects that you either don’t feel qualified to handle or that don’t fit your business model. Whenever we go outside what interests us or doesn’t fit our business model, we increase the likelihood that we’re going to disappoint. That’s what happened to our travel agent. We will continue to use her because we’ve since had a discussion in which we both gained clarity about what she does well and what doesn’t fit her business model. Having said that, the experience could easily have cost her a client.

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