For me, boundaried people are brilliant to work with. I always know where I stand, I know I won’t hear promises that can’t be delivered on and can rely on them to push back if my requests are unreasonable. They will be direct (with respect and empathy) without fearing it will hurt our relationship. As a result, I feel safe with them because I trust them. At times, it of course means there’s conflict that we have to negotiate but they can engage in these crucial conversations because they regularly practise honouring their needs while being equally curious and mindful of mine. This is how win-win outcomes are reached. Sadly, there are not enough of these brilliantly boundaried people around.

Honestly, it took me the whole decade of my 20s to overcome the “disease to please.” When I started realising how often I’d make others happy at my own detriment, I started taking Key Steps to overcome this counterproductive behaviour. I could let go of resentment and was able to say “No”… and “Yes” to the things that mattered. It was life changing and so empowering to realise that when someone tried to make demands on my time, energy and resources, that I had the power to choose. The positive benefits were immeasurable, and my relationships improved – they did not deteriorate as I had feared. Well, some did and even ended, but as hard as that was it was empowering too as I was able to let go of relationships that weren’t worth investing in (as they were one sided).

What worked for me was learning ways to say “NO.” Here are some of the ways that enabled me to… ‘be the difference that makes the difference.’

  1. The Sleeping No. “I’ll let you know tomorrow, after I’ve had time to review my schedule.” Thinking about the request overnight (or just for 10-minutes) will give you the space to make the best decision. You may even decide to say, “Yes” for the right reason and just as a knee jerk reaction.
  2. The Reflecting No. In this softer version, you acknowledge the content and feeling of the request while still maintaining your own boundary. “I know you’ve been so busy lately too. I just can’t do it this week.”
  3. The Reasoned No. Give a brief and genuine reason for refusing, without opening negotiations. “No, I can’t help you complete the project. I have two big projects due in June myself.”
  4. The Pain Now or Pain Later No. This is one of the kindest things you can say if you really don’t think you have the time to do something. “I’m not sure how things will shape up with my schedule, so I’d rather say, “No,” today than have to disappoint you later, when it will be harder to find someone else.”
  5. The No Sandwich. In this one, you recognise the value of the relationship, refuse the request and thank them for asking. “I know this project is really important to you. I just don’t have capacity to get involved right now. I do appreciate your asking me.”
  6. The Broken Record No. Use this when someone is trying to wear you down by begging, flattery or sweetening the deal. It can be hard to ignore the repetitive attempts at manipulation, but it is possible. Mila puts me to the test on a daily basis 😊. If you don’t hold your boundaries, you teach the requester (whether it is your manager, client or child) that nagging or even bullying, in some cases, gets the results they wanted. So, it is important that if you start the broken record no, you plan to follow through. Otherwise, it might be better to use the “Yes If No” (see no. 7 below).

    “No, I am unable to help with this project because [add reason].”  $ “But nobody does this as well as you do.”
    “Thank you. I appreciate the feedback and know how busy you are too. I just can’t help with this project.” $ “But I promised I’d get your support.”
    “No, I am unable to help with this project.” $ “It’ll give you such great visibility with senior management.”
    “I’d rather be honest with you than disappoint you down the line when I am unable to deliver.” $ “But there is no-one else to do it and it isn’t going to look good if you don’t assist.”
    “As mentioned, I really can’t help you with this project. I hope you find the support you need.” $ [And you might need to keep going….]
  7. The Yes If No. This is the negotiator’s “No.” You state the conditions under which you can meet the request. “Yes, I can help you with this project if someone else in the team completes my month end report and if you can give me all the info by 12 June. Can you commit to these two things?”
  8. The Direct No. “No, I am unable to attend the meeting.” This is a somewhat blunt no and I use it as a last resort. Keep it in your back pocket for situations that really call for it.
What “No” can you imagine yourself using to be BRILLIANTLY BOUNDARIED and take Key Steps to…‘be the difference that makes the difference.’


NOTE: The information in my blog may be freely shared and re-used in any online or offline publication, provided it is accompanied by the following credit line: This was written by Dr Sharon King Gabrielides, and originally appeared in her free weekly  ‘Key Steps Food for Thought Blog’ available on the Key Steps website.

Dr Sharon King Gabrielides

About Dr Sharon King Gabrielides

Sharon is a dynamic facilitator, speaker and executive coach with over 25 years’ experience in leadership development and organisational transformation. Her PhD thesis contributed a framework for holistic and sustainable leadership development that was published by Rutgers University in the USA. She is faculty of numerous business schools and highly sought-after by leading corporates because she works hand-in-hand with them to create sustainable results and long-term success. In 2020, Sharon was inducted into the Educators Hall of Fame, which is a lifetime achievement award, recognising excellence and her contribution to the field.

Sharon is one of only three women in South Africa to hold the title of Certified Speaking Professional (CSP) – the Oscar of the speaking industry. She is also a COMENSA Master Practitioner (CMP), a qualified Modern Classroom Certified Trainer (MCCT™) and an accredited Global Virtual Speaker. Sharon is also a registered Education, Training and Development Practitioner (ETDP), holds an Honours degree in Psychology and practices as an NLP master practitioner.

Most important to Sharon is that she has become known for her genuinely caring manner, practical and transformational approach, and for providing valuable tools and that allow people to take Key Steps to really… ‘be the difference that makes the difference.’