Sometimes saying "yes" is the easier answer, not the right one, and negative consequences may result for those afraid to say "no."

By Regan Walsh

No. It's a word we are often afraid to say-as organizational leaders, as associates, as parents, even as friends.

The catch is, "yes" is often a trap.

Whether you're an organization or an individual, saying "yes" to something that doesn't align with your priorities and plans will only create confusion, frustration and disappointment.

We avoid "no" for a couple of reasons.

First and foremost, we avoid it out of fear. We're afraid we'll miss out on new business if we turn down that coffee meeting, or we're afraid we'll disappoint our kid's teacher if we say "no" to bringing snacks.

We also avoid it thanks to ego. Of course we must be the one to get the job done. Who else could possibly do it as well?

On the flip side, often we say "yes" to something so we can be seen a certain way-reliable, connected, overachieving. Meanwhile, we ignore our own wants.

We also fall into the "yes" trap when we believe we need an excuse to say "no." (I once went to a concert with a client because I felt I didn't have a good enough excuse not to. I'm an in-bed-by-9 gal, and I'm certainly not a fan of crowds. But there I was on a Thursday night, standing in a mosh pit listening to a band I was clearly only pretending to enjoy. Note: If you have to fake something-anything-why are you saying "yes?")

When we say "yes" to something, we're actually saying "no" to something else, and vice versa. It really is that simple.

The only way to get comfortable with saying "no" is to understand what it is you want to say "yes" to. Having clear goals in place will give you the confidence you need to turn something down.

For an an individual, this means identifying top priorities and then living accordingly. For a company, it means returning to the mission and vision with every decision made.

As an individual, "no" to an early-morning meeting can mean "yes" to starting the day with a much-needed workout and breakfast with the kids. A "no" to happy hour could mean finishing work at the office so you don't have to log in after dinner.

As a business, a "no" to the wrong client can clear time and bandwidth for a "yes" to the right one. And "yes" to the right clients can mean work that shines-and ultimately results in higher profits.

Once you refocus, saying "yes" or "no" becomes much easier. If you find yourself struggling to make a decision, try saying, "Let me get back to you." This gives time and space to check in with yourself or your organization and ask: Does this opportunity align with my/our priorities? Does it make me/us excited? Anxious?

Run toward what makes you happy.

Think about it: What will you say "no" to this week, month, year? And what will you be saying "yes" to instead?

Regan Walsh is an executive coach and keynote speaker who works with clients from Wall Street to Portland and proudly calls Columbus home. You can visit her at or reach her at