Yes... I mean, NO! ...err, Thank You?

Erika Petrelli
Erika Petrelli


I am definitely a YES person. Yes, I can organize that event. Yes, we should have ice cream. Yes, you can take the bigger slice. Yes, I’ll wait. Yes, I can meet with you then. Yes, we should sign up. Yes, I can make the deadline. Yes, I can do that trip. Yes, I can pick that up for you. Yes, I can meet you there. Yes, I’ll buy that.

I think this is quite a lovely quality about me, don’t you? Especially since, as I’ve noted before, I really do hate the word no.

And yet.

Too many yeses lead to a life overstuffed, don’t they? Too many yeses and there’s no room for the pausing. Too many yeses and suddenly my tank is on empty, like bone dry, and suddenly I hate everyone and everything. And that is not very lovely all.

But I also know NO people, who say “no” to everything—it’s their default answer, so they say no before even thinking if they might actually want to say yes. Just like my default answer is yes before even thinking if I might actually want to say no. I don’t want to become a No person. I like my Yes-self.

So what’s to be done? It’s a fun conundrum—how do I balance both the yes and the no, and yet still move forward? How do I communicate with the openness inherent in YES and also with the strong boundaries so helpful in NO? How do I offer you the beautiful and bountiful spirit of yes while also preserving my calendar/sanity/checkbook/energy?

I think the secret is in the thank you.

If I focus on the “thank you” instead of the “yes” or the “no”… if I pause and honor the moment with gratitude for having simply been asked, well than that becomes what’s most important.

So if I start with, “Thank you so much for thinking of me to conduct this training with your team. I really appreciate it!” and then I end with, “I’m unable to honor your request right now. Please keep me in mind for another time!”—to me that feels almost as nice as if I had said “Sure thing! I’ll be right over.” Or if I say, “Wow, I really love that you think I’m organized enough to lead this event—that’s quite a compliment!” but then I add “I’m not going to be able to tackle this one, but I’d love to contribute some snacks”—that gives me a yes and a no all rolled into one. Or if I say, “Thank you so much for asking—please always ask! I’m just not going to have time to do that today”—well, it’s like offering a future yes to mitigate the current no.

Thank You keeps the conversation open. Thank You gives you a moment to think. Thank You allows space for a no that feels more like a yes. Thank You honors the invitation you’ve been given to engage, whether or not you choose to take it.

I think the Thank You can also offer an opening to an unexpected yes sometimes too. “Thank you so much for suggesting that I head up this committee… it’s not something I ever considered before. I guess… well, why not?” or “Wow—free concert tickets for tonight? That’s so nice of you!  It is Taco Tuesday night… but, sure ok!”

So rather than defaulting to our yeses or our nos without even actually thinking about what we’re yes-ing and no-ing about, maybe we should practice thinking through our thank yous.

Deciding between a yes and a no today? Why not start with a thank you and see where it takes you?  


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Erika Petrelli

By Erika Petrelli

Erika Petrelli is the Senior Vice President of Leadership Development (and self-declared Minister of Mischief) for The Leadership Program, a New York City-based organization. With a Masters degree in Secondary Education, Erika has been in the field of teaching and training for decades, and has been with The Leadership Program since 1999. There she has the opportunity to nurture the individual leadership spirit in both students and adults across the country, through training, coaching, keynotes, and writing. The legacy Erika strives daily to create is to be the runway upon which others take flight. If you enjoy these blogs, you should check out her interactive journal, On Wings & Whimsy: Finding the Extraordinary Within the Ordinary, now available for sale on Amazon. While her work takes her all around the country, Erika calls Indiana home.