I didn’t think I had a problem with ‘no’, after all people don’t often ask me questions with a yes or no answer. I wasn’t quite sure what everyone was on about. And yet why did I end up taking on so much and getting overwhelmed? A tricky conundrum that had me perplexed for a while. Until one day it occurred to me – I don’t need to say no because I have volunteered before anyone has asked.
Saying no can be so difficult, especially when as introvert, empath or highly sensitive leaders we often have people pleasing tendencies, which might feel a bit uncomfortable to admit – but take a minute to thank what are your adaptive ways to seek connection. It’s just that they’re not always helpful anymore.
But maybe you don’t have a problem with it. ‘‘No, no, no, see Clare?’’
Or so you thought…
Because what if, because you can intuitively see patterns and solutions, you anticipate exactly what people need before they know themselves, and you’ve already decided what needs doing. You’ve brainstormed, consulted, proposed it and taken on the leadership of it.
You don’t need to say ‘no’ when no one’s asked a question, asked for your help or contribution.
But this is no place for shame, you just got excited. Because you’re brilliant, and it’s in your nature not only to anticipate what other people need, but to analyse, to think deeply. We love to help, to connect, to feel respected and to be useful as quiet leaders. So, we solve and volunteer.
But there’s the same cost even when it’s yourself you cannot say no to, and it’s more elusive than a demanding Director who keeps heaping work and conflicting deadlines on you and your team. It’s a bit embarrassing too sometimes if it’s your team and are thinking ‘’I’ve just said we’ll do this work and my team are already under pressure’’ – what to do when you’ve effectively said they’re not by volunteering? Justify it, a lot, or do it yourself?
But even personally; a full calendar of exciting projects and things ‘to do’ when that important, not urgent task that means your team will have a clear vision for the next 12 months just gets put back, and back. And because you value integrity, you’re not going to go back on your word. Overwhelm and exhaustion as you move from one thing straight to the next, overwork and lose sight of priorities.
What’s the alternative – sitting with the discomfort of knowing you have an answer, can see how to do it, can make people’s lives and situations better, and not saying it or doing it? It’s soooooo hard.
Maybe, just maybe, there’s a different road…
Awareness of your knee-jerk reaction to a problem or idea: thoughts that are coming up, changes in body position, sensations e.g. do you lean forwards, have an eagle-eyed stare, tense your shoulders and jaw? Feel tightness in your chest?
And pause. What would be an alternative course of action? In which ways could you still contribute, take care of what’s most important, and not do it all yourself?
How could you change your posture for these thoughts and solutions to flow more easefully? Lead back? Raise your gaze? What works for you? Does that feel any different to your ‘knee-jerk’ reaction posture?
Try it out when the pressure is not on: practice cognitive and bodily awareness – of old reactions – and interrupt them, play with possible new ones, and just notice the result.
But what does it mean for your life and leadership? Maybe you’ll have space and time and energy for what you already have on your plate, and all the important not urgent leadership tasks. Maybe if you can let things sit they will quietly process in the background, and you can connect more ideas, awaiting helpful events/people with support and buy-in. Maybe you’ll be a lot less overwhelmed and exhausted, not pushing things before they’re ready, and be a lot more present as a leader.