How to Say “No” After Saying “Yes”

By Melody Wilding September 20, 2021 (Harvard Business Review )

Picture it — a colleague asks if you can chair a new committee they’re starting. Without even pausing to think, the first words out of your mouth are, “Sure. I’d love to!” Flash forward, and you’re looking at emails piling up in your inbox and a flurry of appointments on your calendar. It suddenly hits you that you’re spread too thin. You know you need to say no after saying yes, but you’re hesitant to back out of the obligation after you’ve already given your word.

Saying no is never easy, but it’s particularly challenging after you’ve already said yes to a commitment. You may worry that backing out will burn bridges, cause you to be perceived as flaky or unreliable, or lead to you being labeled a poor team player. These fears are heightened for “sensitive strivers” — highly sensitive high-achievers — who tend to overthink situations and have a hard time setting boundaries.

If you can relate, then the thought of retracting your agreement and facing the brunt of another person’s disappointment or anger at you may be too much to bear. This reaction makes sense, since studies show that the brain makes no distinction between possible social rejection and physical pain. Instead, you grit your teeth and follow through with the commitment — sometimes at the expense of your own wellbeing, which backfires. Not only does it result in excess stress for you, but others may be able to sense that you’re distracted, overwhelmed, or resentful.


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