Do You Have a Hard Time Saying No?

Have you ever said “yes” to a request, and then gone back to your office kicking yourself because you didn’t say “no?” Leadership involves a series of yeses and nos, and it’s important for leaders to be thoughtful about both.

Many church leaders have a hard time saying no. We are in ministry to make a difference and to help others, so saying yes to a chance to help seems like the right thing to do. For church staff members, saying yes to someone in authority over us sometimes seems like the only thing to do.

Yet when we say yes too often, we become overloaded and less effective in the most important tasks at hand. Not only that, when we say yes to helping people with tasks or challenges that they need to handle on their own, we get in the way of their growth. While our goal is to help, we end up being less than helpful because they become dependent on us. When a church member has ongoing family crises and asks us to intervene, we may hamper their own resourcefulness if we always help out.

The task is to say yes and no appropriately. How to discern which is which? Time management guru Mark Forster suggests only saying yes to things we can be wholehearted about. I find this a valuable concept, yet as a leader, it can be more complicated than that. I may say yes to attending an event I’m not that enthusiastic about, because I know I can connect with some key people there, and build relationships. But saying yes needs to be thoughtful and not automatic.

We can ask ourselves this question: does saying yes here support my leadership and my goals?

Saying no is even more complicated. Particularly for those of us who were programmed early on to be helpful, saying no causes an emotional reaction. We feel guilty, like we are letting others down, being mean or irresponsible. Learning to manage our emotions is an important part of our growth as a leader. Just because we feel bad when we say no doesn’t mean it’s the wrong thing to do. When we are beginning to function in a different way, being more thoughtful about our commitments and responses to those in need, we may feel uncomfortable when we say no. Of course, we do need to be smart about saying no. Saying no to a boss requires some savvy and preparation (and may start with questions rather than an outright “no”). Saying no to a needy church member for the first time will probably mean they react negatively, and we need to be prepared for that. Saying no to an assistant or volunteer who needs help (again) completing a project may mean that project doesn’t get done on time.

We can ask ourselves this question: does saying no here help me or others grow?

When to say yes and when to say no? It’s an art, not a science. But as we consider our commitments and our goals with thought and care, over time we can find ourselves making choices that support our goals without overloading us.

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