Your Brilliant Career Podcast

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This podcast provides an injection of energy and practical insights to women who are committed to their career. I share tactics, tools and stories that inspire capable women to think bigger and unapologetically achieve the success they deserve.

One of my early realisations was that there are many unwritten rules about career success that no one tells you. Smart women are tired of generic career tips. They want accessible, relevant and practical tips. Each episode includes content that inspires women to step up in their career and experience the energy and reward of being more.

Your Brilliant Career is a podcast that aims to help more women rise and reach new heights in their career.



In this episode, I talk about why people pleasing and always saying yes might be hindering your career success. On the flipside, I'll also be sharing some great tools to help you develop the ability to say no at work in a way that keeps your reputation intact.

Links we talked about on the podcast include:

RISE Accelerate program:

My free guide - How to say 'no' without compromising your reputation:

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Your transcript

Welcome to Season Three of the Your Brilliant Career podcast. It is a pleasure to be back. This is Episode 38. I feel like we're really making progress here and today, we are going to kick off the season with the topic that I thought you'd enjoy.

We are going to talk about people pleasing and the ability to say no at work. Now, this is a sneak glimpse at some of the content we explore together in the RISE Accelerate Program. We're launching another RISE Accelerate Program later in the year, so if you are curious and want to get some focus into your career, you can register your interest now. You can get on that wait list via the website, just jump on Your Brilliant Career. Click on RISE Accelerate and you will see that you can just pop on that wait list and when the door is open, we'll send you an email and you won't miss out. Now, you are either here listening to this episode because A, you're an avid listener to this podcast and if so, thank you. Thank you so much for that. Or, you looked at the title of this episode and thought, "Yep, that is something I need", and maybe you're thinking to yourself, I say yes to too many things that I don't even want to say yes to at work. I understand this. I've been there and I see this behavior in so many women I work with. High performing women, established leaders who are still struggling to say no, and it's holding them back.

I'll never forget working in magazines and an editor telling me my team needed to drop everything to support an event that she was launching the following week. Now, the challenge was that it was my team's busiest time of the year. So it felt like an impossible task, but this particular editor was difficult. She was used to getting her own way, and when she didn' ... we felt the reverberations two floors down. Yes, we did. It was kind of like the Miranda Priestly, Devil Wears Prada, that same kind of intensity and fear that she generated. Now, I should have said no, very clear. I couldn't be more clear about that. I can look back at that situation and I'm so clear I should have said no, but I didn't. Instead, I catastrophised, I worried that this editor would marginalise me for the rest of my career, if she didn't get her own way and my poor, poor team had to step up that week in the most extraordinary way.

No part of it felt good at the time. But here's the thing, I didn't know how to hold my ground. I didn't know how to be more assertive, but I also realised if I didn't get a grip of this, it was going to feel like this inevitable sequence of events because I was working with a lot of big personalities, a lot of strong demanding characters, and that not knowing, it left me… The whole experience left me just feeling like a lousy leader, like a lousy human. And here's what I want you to know. Learning to say no is a skill. It's a skill that you can learn. I had to learn it. It's a skill that is available to all of us. It requires letting going of the people pleasing tendencies and acquiring some very practical skills.

And this includes the language. How do you approach saying no? What do you specifically say when you say no to someone at work? I feel like the language part is a very big missing element for many women. Intellectually, I know that so many women, they get the importance of pushing back, but they're just unclear how they should articulate it. What should their response sound like? There's such a fear of collateral damage to their reputation. So instead, you just keep saying yes and you stay in that loop that doesn't progress your career. Well, the best part of what I'm going to share with you today is that mastering how to say no in the workplace will elevate you in ways you never imagined. Now, I know that sounds like a big promise, but it's true.

Think about it like this. Most of us feel constantly pressed for time. We try to do too much. Yet, when someone makes a request, the tendency can be to say yes without even thinking. It's like a default response, and I think for many women we feel like we have to do it all, but here's the problem with that. Because we are going in so many directions doing all those things, making everyone happy, we actually make little progress in any of those things. So many of those activities that we are saying yes to are trivial. They're not important tasks. They're not the tasks that are driving the strategic initiatives in the business, the stuff that you really want to hang your hat on, the stuff that will make you shine at work.

Greg McKeown is the author of an excellent book called Essentialism, and he says, "We are just too occupied with the small stuff and the way out of this busyness trap is to practice essentialism". And he says, "Do fewer things but better". Now imagine if you focused on the key business priorities, said no to the small stuff, and started to shine at those bigger projects. How would that feel? Well, I'm here to tell you, people pleasing is never going to get you to that place. But on the upside, if you master this, it will help you to create more time and space in your day. It really will. It will elevate you because you'll be more assertive and influential in those situations.

It will also help you... and this might just be a perception, but it will also help you overcome that feeling of being underestimated. You'll make your value more visible to people, and the best part, and this is the part that I loved the most, it will allow you to gain more calmness, just to feel a little bit more peaceful, more order, more choice. So there's a lot of benefits in looking at this and it will elevate you.

So this is the game plan for today. I want to take you through a step-by-step plan on how to say no, why you need to say no and how you can say it. I'm going to share with you today six scripts that show you how to say no elegantly at work.

I often use that word elegantly because saying no does not have to be this combative behavior. Saying no in my mind is not a full sentence despite what people tell you. When you have to say no at work, you want to convey it in a way that you come out the other end looking professional and poised and you want to be respected. So that's why I say let's learn how to say no elegantly. Now even better... Well, I'm going to take you through all this today. I'm also going to leave you with a 16-page guide entitled How to Say No Without Damaging Your Reputation. You can access the scripts I'm going to share with you today and a full breakdown of how to say no. And you can access this guide via the show notes below. It's going to cover most of the things I'm covering today plus more, and I'll cover off what the more is at the end of this.

This is what I'd encourage you to do. Have a listen to this podcast so you get the understanding of it. Sometimes it's just easier to have someone talk you through it and then, download the guide, save it, practice your scripts and use it as a go-to guide, hone your skills and once and for all, learn how to say no at work. Stop the pleasing, elevate yourself and feel that freedom from defaulting to pleasing, and it is freedom.

I love the idea of teaching women how to say no, and I want you to do it gracefully and honestly, and I also want you to learn how to say no in a variety of situations because you need that. The scripts are very helpful in this way because that's how I've approached it. I've created different scenarios that are likely to come up for you where you will want to say no. Before I go there, I want to spend some time with you exploring why you do say yes too much. Because there's a reason, there's always a reason. We want to understand what your driver is, what your motivation for saying yes to things is because if you stay attached to that reason, that belief, it doesn't matter if you have the tools, the scripts, the how-to pieces, you will still be emotionally invested in saying yes.

Your belief will keep you rooted in that same behavior. So we need to sort of have a look at that and debunk it, create a different belief, a different thought around why you're saying yes. So this is a really important piece to do before we actually look at the approach. So I want you to think for a moment, where is your resistance coming from? Why are you defaulting to yes? I'm going to propose four reasons today. You can listen and you can identify which one you relate to most. One, two, three or four and I imagine you will relate to one, maybe more. Who knows?

So let's have a look. Do you say yes to things because you believe reason one, you are the one at work that gets stuff done and everyone knows that. You are reliable, you are the go-to person, you're a hard worker, you have a great reputation for really taking stuff on and getting it done, and this attitude has paid off for you. It's got you to where you are in your career today, and that's a good spot. So in your mind, why change? Why stop saying yes. It's been a winning formula for you. Okay? So let's reason number one.

Number two, you've always valued kindness and helping others. So it is a natural default for you to want to support others, to want to say, yes. “Of course I can help you with that. I'd be happy to do that for you.” That's the kind of person you are, that's the kind of person that you want to be professionally.

Or is it reason number three, someone that you respect, told you that the secret to career success is to say yes to everything? Be curious. Step up to every opportunity. That's how you will advance your career.

Or is it reason number four, you just hate the idea of using the word no, for fear of confrontation, disappointing others or being perceived as selfish. Yeah, none of it sits comfortable for you.

So which one is for you? Is it number one, you are the one at work that gets stuff done? Is it number two? You've always valued kindness and helping others. Is it number three, you were told that the secret to career success is to say yes to everything or is it number four, there is genuine fear of confrontation and disappointing others. Which one is it for you? Try and identify which one is for you. Be honest. Maybe it's a few, that’s okay.

None of these beliefs are good. To continue with any of those beliefs is probably going to keep you in the same behavioral loop and they will hinder your progress. You may have heard that saying… what we focus on expands. This means whatever we choose to believe becomes our truth regardless of how real it is. If you go on believing those things, it will be a self-fulfilling behavior that you continue to say yes, and we don't want that. So let's debunk some of these beliefs and let's get a fresh set of eyes on them. Yep, and I'm going to go through them one at a time.

Alrighty, so I'm going to call it myth number one, being the doer pays off. So if you are number one, listen carefully to this. Now, I totally understand that being the doer may have paid off in the past. It may have got you to where you are in your career today, but I'm here to tell you that it won't necessarily get you to the next level of success in your career. That shift from doing to leading is part of the trajectory that any high performer goes through. It actually requires new skills and behaviors and sadly, being the doer will not help you demonstrate your value or allow you to be truly understood. It's always going to hold you in that same spot. So being the doer does not pay off. Okay? So that's number one.

Myth number two… being kind and helping others at work is the right thing to do. Okay? Now of course it's good to be kind. Of course, it's okay to be a kind and caring person, but when it comes to careers, it is also important to honour and tend to our own needs. Always defaulting to I should help them, it’s the kind thing to do, it actually causes more problems than you might think, and I know you think you might be doing the right thing, but the biggest problem that this behavior causes, it prevents people from figuring out other options and solutions.

You are training them not to think. So there's no win-win in this. And the other thing about always saying yes because you think it's the right thing to do, is it makes you an easy target. It can actually lead to a harmful pattern of self-sacrifice, of neglect. It can be a real career showstopper.

Number three. It's probably my personal favourite here, saying yes to every opportunity is going to advance your career. Now, I was told this too, and I believed it with all my heart until it dawned on me one day that the many projects and jobs that I said yes to didn't add real value to me in my career. They undoubtedly helped the other person, but my ROI was minimal. Yeah, and further, the more work I acquired, the more overwhelmed I felt and then mistakes landed.

So I'm here to tell you, saying yes to everything is not smart. It may have been a strategy in the very early part of your career, but not now, because how can you be seen as a high performer when you are overwhelmed and drowning in work. It's impossible, right? It's impossible. So saying yes to every opportunity is not going to advance your career.

Finally, let's talk about myth number four, saying no scares you. Okay, now I get it. I get it. I shared my just one story from my days in magazines. It can be a difficult conversation and it does take courage but let me ask you this... Who do you want to be in 12 months from now? Do you want to be the people pleaser that has trouble advocating for themselves or do you want to be taken seriously at work and own your career at a higher level?

Yeah, and I know the challenges with this. I know that so many women are taught to be nice, not to rock the boat. I know that there is genuine fear if we are too assertive. We're going to be seen as bitchy, as demanding. But I'm here to tell you that I really am trying to help you rewrite that narrative, to understand how to assert yourself without feeling bad about it, how to do it well and how to do it without damaging your reputation. And all of that is possible, okay? So it shouldn't scare you. It's not as high risk as you think. And when I share the scripts with you, I think you'll agree. I think you'll become a lot more comfortable with it. It's a beautiful thing when we get to decide what we think and what's possible for us in our careers.

And I just want to float this with you. This could be your opportunity to put a line in the sand that says, a brilliant career for me requires me to start saying no. It requires me to stop saying yes to things. And if you retain those limiting beliefs, that's going to be very difficult. So I want you to really think about that. Hopefully, that landed for you, and it's really challenged the way that you've been thinking about saying yes. So let's move on now and look at the language. Let's have a look at the six scripts. Now, the six scripts, they look at six different work scenarios. So let me talk you through the first one. Super short.

The first one is a scenario where you just want to create space to think, okay? So you actually don't want to commit to a yes or a no, but you don't want to default and just say yes. Okay? So it might sound like this, “thank you for thinking of me, and this sounds like an interesting initiative, but I would like some time to think about it. I'll get back to you tomorrow”. So there's no question there. You're not saying, would you mind if I get back to you tomorrow? I will get back to you tomorrow. Okay. It's not long. It's quite succinct. So that's scenario one.

The next one is one you all love and it's called the way too much work. This is how it reads. "Thanks for reaching out to me with this terrific opportunity. As exciting as this assignment sounds, I cannot commit because my current workload, which includes completing X, whatever that is, and Y as key business priorities, needs to take precedence at this time". Let me say that one again. Okay? "Thanks for reaching out to me for this terrific opportunity. As exciting as this assignment sounds, I cannot commit because my current workload, which includes completing X and Y as key business priorities, needs to take precedence at this time".

Now, you might notice a couple of things just in those two scripts alone. First of all, there's a little bit of enthusiasm. Yep. I feel that enthusiasm is very powerful in these situations, and you don't want to sound miffed. Okay, and I think that's what happens a lot because women resist saying no and then they have to say no. By the time they arrive at that space, they are miffed, and they come across as a bit frustrated. We want to come across confident and enthusiastic.

We also don't want to go into too much detail. So the examples you've just heard, they're succinct, but they're also assertive. And lastly, they don't want to give false hope that you'll change your mind. Okay? So they can't be misleading. They've got to be quite clear and precise in their communication. All right let's listen to a couple more.

This next one I call an enthusiastic no and it goes like this, "Thanks for asking me. I feel so many great things are happening in the business now. Even so, I need to decline because I want to ensure that my focus and energy is directed at the most important strategic priorities this quarter. I'm excited about achieving X and Y, and want to ensure these pieces of work are not compromised and we deliver what we promised".

Okay, so a very thorough explanation demonstrates a real commitment to what you consider and what the business considers as important, the strategic priorities and that they can't be compromised. We need to deliver on what we've promised. All right?

Number four is what I call a no with an option. So listen to this, I've just used an example. “Unfortunately, my workload doesn't allow me to complete this financial report by the end of the month. If the deadline was to be extended by two weeks, I might be able to accommodate you. Please let me know how you'd like to proceed”, okay?

So you've given them a very exact, you've just haven't said, I'm too compressed, I can't do this. You've outlined, if you were to extend the deadline by this amount of time, I might be able to accommodate you. Then, you haven't asked them a question, you have put the ball straight back into their court by saying, please let me know how you'd like to proceed. Okay? So that's the assertive part.

Number five is a goodie. You'll like this one – managing a random request. So here we go. “Thank you, and I can see the urgency of this project”, because random requests are normal or urgent, right? "I do appreciate you thinking of me. The truth is I need to evaluate this with my manager because it would mean reprioritising other work. Let me have this conversation and I'll come back to you as quickly as possible".

So instead of just saying yes, in this spiral of panic, which can often happen with a random request, you are slowing them down. Yep. You are showing that to say yes, it's going to impact other things in the business. Okay, so even if you take it on, they're going to respect the extra work that is going to go into it rather than just defaulting to yes. So just slowing things down and making that person a lot more aware of the impact.

Okay, and the last one is the cheeky "Yes if" approach. It's super short and it looks like this, "Thank you for thinking of me for this project. Yes, if I can have the support and resources, whatever they might be, I need to do this work for you". Okay, so you say yes, it's a little cheeky. You say yes, but of course it will be dependent on X and Y. Okay?

So, I hope that's helpful to you. That's just a little bit of an insight. In the guide, there are, I think there's one or two extra scripts as well. So you can download those. You can the full guide. You'll have it all there. In the guide, I also share two other helpful skills for saying no. Firstly, I share a formula on how to create your own scripts to say no. So with all those that I just shared, there is a formula. Yeah, it's not a tricky formula either. It's one that you can easily emulate. I want you to be able to put your own flare and style into your own language for saying no. So have a look at what the formula is.

I like the scripts as well because they give you somewhere to start, somewhere to start playing with, and you could practice these. You could have a phone call and have it in front of you, like you've got to practice these to bring them to life. Otherwise, it's just intellectual fodder.

Secondly, I share in the guide a method for evaluating what you say yes or no to. So you might be worried at this point that you're going to start saying no to all the wrong things, and that's going to impact your reputation negatively. Well, not so have a read of this. It is a highly effective evaluation system. It will help you determine very quickly what you say yes and no to in the business. I call it the CAR method, and you can check it out in the guide.

Alrighty, I'm going to leave it there. This has been a lot of fun. I hope you do something meaningful with it all. Imagine how saying no could elevate you. More respect, more time, more calmness, more impact, more opportunity to make your value more visible at work. All sounds good, huh?

Alrighty. Well that is a wrap. Thank you so much for being here and for listening. Have a super few weeks.

If this episode or the show in general, has helped you or supported you in any way, I would so appreciate it if you would write a short review. It really does help the show climb the rankings and get on the radar of other women wanting to progress in their careers. We are 38 episodes in and doing well, but we would love to share these career insights with more women and see more women like you thrive in their career. So just a few words or sentences about what you enjoyed most about the podcast, it would be hugely appreciated. Thank you so much.