Boundaries: Your Yes Means Nothing if You Can’t Say No

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Doctor Neha: Hello, everybody. Today, I have a special guest, Blake. He’s another brave soul willing to ask his communication questions so that all of you can learn. So welcome, Blake.

Blake: I’m super excited about this digital hangout right now.

Doctor Neha: I am super excited too. I have to say that the work that you’re doing with teens and tweens and how you’re helping them navigate social media is so important. I feel like we’re doing a lot of similar work. I’m talking about communication. You’re helping people communicate—and communicate effectively and authentically using technology. So the pleasure is mine.

So what are you thinking about? What communication question have you been pondering?

Blake: I was talking to some friends the other day about how my big commitment to this year will be, especially with New Year’s recently. Everyone’s sort of in that headspace in some way, shape or form. And for me, my big drive or theme of the year is boundaries. And I don’t think I learned the word boundaries until eight months ago.

I think it’s because I’ve grown up in and had a good family life and created good friendships. I’ve never really been in a situation where things got so bad that it was time to put up some boundaries. But what is making the topic of boundaries become prominent in my mind is that I’m seeing it as a pathway to better focus and heightened commitment. So boundaries could help me with focusing on my business, with my relationships and even health. So getting better at saying no to things and honoring a boundary without getting caught up in my head thinking, Oh, I’m about to say no to meeting up with an old friend or I would say no to having a meeting with someone about a project that I could do but don’t really want to allocate time toward. So I think the question is for someone who’s embarking on the boundaries pursuit and putting some in place and getting good at saying no is probably a muscle worth flexing to make that possible. So what do you see as some best practices for people who are going to begin saying no to some things—not because they’re awful, but because they’re not ideal—without coming across as a jerk.

Doctor Neha: First of all, great topic. It’s relevant to many, many people. So the first thing I would say is if you don’t know how to say no, then your yes means nothing.

Blake: Ah, that was good.

Doctor Neha: Really what you’re talking about is moving into integrity with yourself and others. How you draw boundaries and how you make those choices is really important. So the good news is that you are moving from the perspective of a mediocre life to a perspective of how to create an ideal and amazing and exciting life for myself. That’s what boundaries are for, right? It’s you taking it your life to the next level. So give me an example of a situation in which you know you need to start drawing boundaries.

Blake: Two things—In business, I noticed that I get excited to meet new people. So if I go to a conference like the one I went to last January where I met about thirty new people, I probably had two coffees with each of them over the next two months. It’s fun; it’s enjoyable. And I wasn’t moving forward with the key projects or actions for business. So that’s where I notice it on the business front. I need to get this energy in this spirit from meeting people, but I need to not do it at the expense of the key goals and projects that I want to be working on in business. Second, I got engaged last May…

Doctor Neha: Congratulations.

Blake: Thank you. And I’m noticing the dynamics associated going from son to husband—so literally moving the planets. The center of the universe is no longer what it’s been since I was a kid: my family. They have come first but now it’s about forming this family together with my soon-to-be wife. So having conversations to honor that and put some expectations in place but also not just completely blindside family members or offend the relationships. Those are two large nuggets both on the business side and the personal side that just called for some boundaries to positively be put in place.

Doctor Neha: So that’s a really important because what I’m realizing is that there is a sense here of not just boundaries, but also how to make decisions. So it’s even bigger than boundaries. What do you say yes to? What do you say no to? What you’re talking about is decisions. Let’s go through something called the two-step decision-making tool. Will that work? Basically whenever it’s time to make a decision, I think to myself, OK, do I know what my highest values are? So if you could just give me some of the things that you value most. What are they?

Blake: Family skyrockets to the top.

Doctor Neha: OK. So family…

Blake: And flexibility is way up there.

Doctor Neha: You’re an entrepreneur, right? You like having power of your own schedule and the flexibility to create.

Blake: Yeah. My fiancée has been an inspiration for me in all things. So a major value is how I can get time with her experiences because from that, so many good things ripple out into other directions.

Doctor Neha: And what do you value most about her?

Blake: I’m always elevated when I’m around her, like I can’t really get worse. And I want to keep our relationship strong and positive and growing. So there are some relationships where I can kind of coast and the relationship stays in tact, but if I try to coast with her, I’ll be coasting solo.

Doctor Neha: OK, so I would say you value family, you value love, you value self-awareness and growth. You value flexibility; you value creativity. Does that sound like some good starting points?

Blake: Yes, big time.

Doctor Neha: So when you come to a decision and whether you say yes or you say no to something, the first step is to look at it through a values filter. I ask myself, “Does this request coming from inside me or outside of me? Does it pass my values?” The filter test assesses whether all of my highest values are in alignment here. Because if they’re not, then the answer is no right away.

The second question to ask yourself is, “Does this give me energy or does this drain me of energy?” Because a lot of people live through obligation. What this two-step decision-making tool does is help you shift to inspiration. So a conversation goes like this: “Hey, Neha, would you like to go have coffee?” And maybe I’m one of those 30 people that you are thinking about. If you’re worried about being a nice guy, worried about saying no to me because you want me to like you, and you hope I don’t tell anyone else something negative about you if you say no, then you might say yes to me. Now, having coffee with me may be in full alignment with your business and personal values.

So this situation might have passed the values filter test, but the second piece to consider is about energy. So if you then begin thinking, If I say yes to Neha, then I’m not going to get to spend time with my fiancée and then I’m going to have to cut my run short and then I’m going to have to… that’s when you realize [having coffee with me] will drain you of energy [in the long run]. So when you have something that passes the values filter test and will boost you and pass the energy test, now you’re on your way to saying yes. If something doesn’t pass your values filter test, you know you’re not going to do it. If it does pass and it gives you energy, you’re most likely going to put it in the yes category because not only is it focusing you in the direction you want to go, but it’s also inspiring you. Now if it passes your values filter test, but it drains you a little bit of energy, what you want to do is pay attention to how many items you’re putting in that category. It’s true for all of us that sometimes we have to do things that are obligations, like I run a business myself so I have to do some things just to run a business, so I’ll put it in that category yes to the filters test but no to energy. When too many things start piling up in that category, that’s when you need to draw those boundaries that you were asking about. So I just backed up a little bit to help you with decision making first with a decision-making tool. Then we can move into boundaries.

So I told you that your yes means nothing if you can’t say no, right?

Blake: Yes.

Doctor Neha: You then asked, “How do I say no to somebody without offending them?” Well, that’s a bigger question because there’s good news and there’s bad news here.

The bad news is you can’t actually determine how what you say will be received on the other end. No matter how nice and kind you are, no matter how thoughtful you are with the words you choose, the other person still might take it personally. They still might not like you and say negative things about you.

The good news is that, when you learn to draw boundaries, you can develop the next level of integrity in your relationships. You just spoke about “up leveling” with your fiancée. Well, you want your yes to mean something. So let’s say you and I are talking about that coffee invitation again. So you’re going to be a yes man right now, OK? “Hey, do you want to go grab coffee? I’d really love to hang out after the course. What would you say?”

Blake: Yeah, that sounds awesome.

Doctor Neha: OK, now this is where it gets messy. If I know that you always say yes, it’s hard for me to know if you mean it. So I might then say, “Are you sure? I mean, do you really want to do it? Because I don’t know.” And then I start trying to manage you. And this whole conversation gets messy. Now, if I know that you’re a guy who will say no to me when it’s a no, then I know your yes means something. So I’m not concerned because if you’re saying yes, you mean it and I know it. It “up levels” our relationship, because it’s clear and I am not worried about you and whether you really mean it. What if we both took care of ourselves and what if we both let each other know when we could or couldn’t do something? And what if we both trusted that each of us has our own and each other’s best interest at heart? All of a sudden it becomes simple.

And then the compassion piece is usually in your tone. It’s usually how you say it. And you say it with honesty and compassion. So ask me to go to coffee.

Blake: OK…After the conference, I think it’d be awesome to keep the conversation going and I have coffee.

Doctor Neha: An honest compassionate answer would sound like, “You know what, Blake? I had such a blast with you at this conference. I had so much fun, and I want to say thank you for asking me to go for coffee. What I’m feeling torn about—because I’d love to spend more time with you—is that I’ve been away from my kids for three days now at the conference. So there’s a part of me tugging and saying it’s time for me to go back to them because they have sacrificed enough. It’s time for me to go be with them. And there’s a part of my heart that really wants to do that. So maybe another time we could do it since right now isn’t the best time for me. Thank you for asking.”

Blake: I see what’s going on.

Doctor Neha: It’s always honesty, but you go back to your values first. So for you it might be a response of “Hey, although I could come out and have dinner with you guys—what I know is I haven’t gotten time to spend with my fiancée and tonight is her night off. So I’m going to do that. Just know I’m gonna miss you.”

Blake: Yeah.

Doctor Neha: But it has to be the truth. Don’t ask someone to get together later on or let you know if things change or tell them “I want to see you next time” if you don’t mean it. Don’t throw a comment in like that if it isn’t true.

Blake: Right.

Doctor Neha: So how was this for you? What were your takeaways?

Blake: The biggest takeaway was that first statement out of your mouth. That was lightning right there. Your yes means nothing if you can’t say no. I’ve never heard that before. And that was big. I’ll be writing that down and putting it on a bathroom mirror. Also I loved the obligation versus inspiration. It’s a neat measurement tool that excites me. And then last, what I took away from the conversation was something that I noticed I did probably two or three months ago, which aligns with this: I’m starting to say no to certain presentations. That’s been my main business for years to go out on the road and give speeches, so it’s difficult sometimes to say no when they’re really cool opportunities. So I said to my booking agent in an email, “No thank you. I am not trying to be a diva. I’m trying to be a husband. Sincerely, Blake.” And he responded, “That was awesome. I totally get that and respect you for that.” And now that’s all I need to say to the team is it’s a husband decision because they know that is a priority for me and a new thing in my life. So this all links to what you’re sharing about responding with values in mind and honestly articulating that.

Doctor Neha: Well, I think the woman that you have found—I have not met her yet—but I am incredibly excited for you because of the level of knowledge that you are a better human in her presence and that she inspires you to be that person. That’s a wish I would have for everyone to be able to say. So thank you for joining us, Blake. Thanks for your honesty and asking your question so other people could learn. So great to see you.

Awareness Prescription for Saying Yes or No

  1. Does this request, opportunity or idea support your highest values?

    1. If no, stop here. Time to draw a boundary & decline.

    2. If yes, continue.

  2. Does this opportunity:

    1. Give you energy (inspiration)?

    2. Drain you of energy (obligation)?

  3. How to decipher your answers:

    1. If this idea supports your highest values + gives you energy (inspires you), say some version of “Yes, thank you. More please!”

    2. If this idea supports your highest values + drains you of energy (feels more like an obligation), say, “No thank you” or “Maybe so.”
      Pay close attention to how many decisions fall in this category. You are only allowed a few very essential items in this category.

  4. Use a tone of compassion and honesty. Beware of adding comments that are not true (I call these filler words), such as “Maybe next time” or “Let’s get together soon.”

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