I was live-streaming a fundraising conference last month and the second day of the conference ended with a panel of non-profit leaders answering questions on variety of topics, including the seemingly elusive balance of work and life. When an attendee asked how she could better manage the crazy, unrealistic work expectations of her director and board, the panelists all agreed that she just had to say “No!” to put an end to the outrageous requests, and—as a result—she would find more balance. Their advice included saying things like:
“No, I can’t take that on.”
“No, I’m not open to another fundraising idea right now. If you’d like to share your idea with me, you’ll need to fill out this form.”
“No, I won’t be attending that meeting/joining that committee.”
Don’t get me wrong; I completely understand the value, necessity, and power of the word “no”. There are times when it’s the absolute appropriate word to use. For example, I teach my preschooler that he is the owner of his body, and if someone touches him in a way he doesn’t like, he gets to say, “NO!” Heck, he gets to scream it and run away.
“NO!” is what I say to my dog if she’s about to chase my neighbor’s cat, and it’s what I say to someone if they say something that’s disrespectful, harmful, racist, or bigoted—”NO! I will not tolerate that.”
But something about the panelists’ message of “just say no” to other people’s ideas and requests in order to find balance rubbed me the wrong way. I sat with it for a few days to consider why it bothered me.
Was it their tone? Maybe a little. Did it feel ego-driven and authoritarian? A bit. Was I uncomfortable saying “no” in my own life? Sure, at times, I think we’re all guilty of that.
I finally realized, though, that what bothered me most was that utilizing “no” as an pathway for finding work and life balance most often results in the exact opposite. In fact, if there’s any one word that creates an imbalance—of power, of creativity, of connection, of equity—”no” might be it.
Furthermore, non-profits exist to tackle some of these precise imbalances in our world. So, why would we—as non-profit leaders—ever promote starting with “no” in our own workplaces—with our very own colleagues—as a way to reclaim equity and balance?
Finding balance begins when you let go and let in. To say “yes” to someone’s idea, especially when you have an opposite or conflicting opinion, is to let go of your ego and let in a new perspective. Finding balance is also about offering acceptance and grace, and being vulnerable. To say “yes” to someone is to validate and value them, to offer connection and healing, and open the floodgates of innovation and creativity. Saying “yes” can also be about admitting to yourself and others that you don’t know everything—and, that’s okay too!
And remember to say “yes” to yourself every once in a while—take a mental health day, turn off your phone, go for walk, order in pizza for dinner—and give yourself plenty of acceptance and grace.
You might even find that when you say “yes” and listen—really listen—you build respect and mutual understanding and that those crazy, overbearing requests slowly disappear.
“Yes, I could take that on if you’d be willing to be my equal partner in the work.”
“Yes, I always welcome ideas. I may not be able to follow through on every single one, but I’d love to hear what you’re thinking.”
“Yes, I absolutely understand the importance of the meeting, and I’d love to support it’s intention in a way that fits in better with my schedule.”
“Yes, I would be interested in learning what another non-profit has done. I’m not sure how to handle this particular situation.
“Yes, I appreciate your input.”
“Yes, I value YOU.”
“Yes” has magic within it. If you’re a parent, you know this. Try it some time with your children and see. And just because you start with “yes” doesn’t mean that you are ending with “yes”—it simply means that you are giving someone credence, you are listening, and you are open to exploring possibilities.
Often by saying “no” we reject the very thing we are trying to obtain. So, next time that outrageous requests finds it way into your email, a conversation, or onto a post-it note tacked to your computer—pause, listen, breathe, and try to find a way to say “yes”. You might be surprised that it gets you exactly what you are looking for.