We all do it sometimes. We say yes to things we'd rather not do. We're nice to people who deserve to be put in their place. We feel bad when we prioritize our own needs above anyone else's. It's a phenomenon, particularly among women, in a society where we've been raised and rewarded for accommodating others over ourselves.
Take, for instance, a 2014 study which found that women are less likely to say no in the workplace, and more likely to be penalized when do. That's not to say we should shy away from disagreeing. In fact, voicing our dissent and saying no—as we've seen with game-changing movements like #timesup and #metoo—has forced accountability and helped sparked change with respect to long-held sexist power structures.
Whether it's voice our opinion in the office, shutting down harassment, or just turning down the request for a favor we have absolutely no time to complete, it's all about listening to that "oh hell no" in our gut, even when we think we're supposed to say yes. You have a right to say no—and an obligation to yourself—when your feeling unsafe, uncomfortable, or simply burnt out. And that's not all—here are some other reasons why you should stop saying yes to everything:
Because you should listen to your instincts
It's a fact: your gut is usually right. A group of Florida State University neuroscientists recently studied the connection between the brain and the gut, and noted that the latter is worth listening to—especially when it's sending signals of caution. While your brain might be programmed to please, your gut is there to protect you from situations that feel uncomfortable. So don't dismiss it.
Because it can hurt your career
Research proposed in the Harvard Business Review found that women are more likely to say yes to doing office "housework" or non-promotable tasks (they're also more likely to be asked), which leaves them with less time for portfolio-building tasks that may contribute to raises and promotions. If you feel like you're being asked to do more menial work than your male colleagues, fight the patriarchy and explain that you need to focus on something more central to your job description.
Because not everyone has to like you
People-pleasing is a chronic condition. It's linked to self-esteem, validation and imposter syndrome. Somewhere back in the day, we learned that we weren't "enough" as our authentic selves and perhaps were rewarded more for saying yes than for being our true selves. But the more we fall into the people-pleasing trap, the more prone we are to mistreatment and the vicious cycle of feeling like a fraud. It's powerful to bust out a firm "no" when asked to do anything that inherently feels unreasonable, and equally important to shut down someone who crosses the line. Ironically, setting clear personal boundaries is something many people appreciate and respect (and if they don't, that's their weakness). Maybe not every single person will love your response, but ask yourself this: do you love every single person you encounter? Of course not. Sometimes, discouraging someone who's taking advantage of you will set them straight, or at least keep them from badgering you again.
Because your time is precious
Burnout is no joke. It's a condition caused by stress with serious psychological and physical side effects. Taking on too many responsibilities at work, or outside of it, may seem like a necessity in the short term, but in the long-term it could do you more harm than good. One way to identify what to turn down is to make a list of your larger goals—financial, emotional, creative. Next, tally up all your current tasks and compare them with your priorities. If there's any fat, or items that don't align with your big picture, consider how you might politely remove yourself from the additional work or refer someone else to take on the task. Remember, balance is just as important as ambition. It's the fuel you need to reach those bigger goals.
Because fear should never stand in your way
Fear is a response to danger—but sometimes that danger is nothing more than a manipulation ploy. You may have a nightmare boss who uses intimidation tactics to test your boundaries. Show them, in a non-hostile way, exactly where your boundaries are. They might respect you more for it, or if nothing else, back off. In other circumstances, you might be driven to say yes despite your better judgement because you fear an opportunity won't come again. Or you might be freaked out by peer pressure and the worry you're letting people down. But if your gut (see above) is screaming "don't do it!", you need to listen to it. Your body knows when you've taken on too much or you're being pressured into something that pushes you too far beyond your comfort level. Remember: saying no isn't a sign of weakness, it's a sign of bravery.
Because you're entitled to your own opinion
Leadership isn't just about corporate management. It's about being decisive and voicing your opinions even if those around you may disagree. As long as you can explain your position in a rational way that seems sensible to your audience—whether you're in a boardroom or a conversation with a needy best friend—disagreeing with popular opinion can be a real strength. Make a decisive and clear argument for your judgement and throw it out there for others to consider. Even if everyone doesn't agree with you, you've honored your own beliefs and showed that you can be an independent thinker under pressure. And that is no small feat.