14th June, 2022

How to Say No and Deal with Pushback

With Rachel Morris

Dr Rachel Morris

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On this episode

In this episode of You Are Not a Frog, Annie Hanekom guides you through how to say no and deal with the inevitable pushback. She shares the importance of language — are you using pain language or power language? We’ll also be discussing how to employ power language to set boundaries and how to use your values to get over the pain of saying no.

If you also struggle with saying no and dealing with pushback, tune in to this episode to know how you can set boundaries, enforce them and make your work life happier!

Show links

Reasons to listen

  1. Understand why saying ‘no’ is a kindness — even if people are put out by it.
  2. Discover the difference between pain and power language.
  3. Learn how to set your boundaries and deal with pushback.

Episode highlights


The Universal Challenge of Saying No


Benefits of Saying No 


Why We Struggle with Saying No


Using the Pause


Practical Prioritisation


The Power of Language


How to Deal with Pushback


Top Tips on How to Say No

Episode transcript

Annie Hanekom: As soon as we’re in a space of saying, ‘I can’t’, ‘I wish I could’, ‘I’ll try’, ‘I’ll aim’ — we call it pain language — we actually are in what we call a victim space. And we have almost talked ourselves into, ‘I have no control. It’s not my choice. I’m stuck here.’ As soon as we recognise that we actually do have a choice, and we are able to say, using power language, I will, or I choose. And those are empowering words. It is amazing how it changes the tone of the conversation.

Rachel Morris: Do you struggle to say no to anyone? Do you keep promising yourself, you’ll do less to get more space in your life, only for your results to crumble as soon as anyone asks you to do anything? Or maybe you’ve tried saying no, only to feel guilty about it, and have backtracked and acquiesced, just to keep someone else happy.

You’re not alone. Whenever I coach doctors and leaders, one of the most common outcomes they ask to focus on is their ability to say no, and I struggle with this myself. Logically, we know that we can’t do everything that’s asked of us. After all, there are only 24 hours in the day. We’re also aware that we can’t please all of the people all of the time. So why do we still find it so hard to admit this and say no in order to do the things that we really need to do and do them well?

This week, Annie Hanekom, team coach, leadership practitioner, and fellow host in the Resilient Team Academy, joins me to discuss just why we find it so hard to say no and set boundaries and how to deal with pushback when it comes — and it definitely will. So listen to find out what happens to our brains when we think someone is upset with us, the difference between pain language and power language, and how this will help you with saying no. And find out how to use your values to get over the pain of saying no.

Welcome to You Are Not A Frog, the podcast for doctors and busy professionals in healthcare and other high stress jobs if you want to beat burnout, and work happier. I’m Dr Rachel Morris, a former GP now working as a coach speaker and specialist in resilience at work. Like frogs in a pan of slowly boiling water, many of us have found that exhaustion and stress are slowly becoming the norm. But you are not a frog. You don’t have to choose between burning out or getting out. In this podcast. I’ll be talking to friends, colleagues, and experts, all who have an interesting take on this and inviting you to make a deliberate choice about how you will live and work.

Are you a leader in health and social care with a busy day job, who’s worried about the level of stress and burnout in your team and wants to get a resilient, thriving and happy team but without burning out yourself? I know what it’s like to work in an overwhelmed team and be one crisis away from not coping. During my coach training, I came across a set of resilience and productivity principles and tools based on coaching and neuroscience, which I wish I’d known about 20 years ago when I first qualified as a doctor. I put them together to form the Shapes Toolkit, a programme for leaders in their teams who want to feel calmer, beat stress and work happier.

We’ve been teaching the Shapes Toolkit course face to face and online to doctors and other healthcare teams around the country. And it’s made a huge difference to the way people approach their lives and their work. We wanted to make this training and the Shapes resources available to busy leaders who may not have time to attend a day-long course, but still want to learn how to use the shapes tools with their teams.

So we created the Resilient Team Academy, an online membership which gives busy leaders in healthcare all the training and tools they need to beat burnout themselves and get a happy and thriving team. You’ll get webinars, training, mini videos and loads of other resources at your fingertips. You can sign up for the Resilient Team Academy individually or as an organisation. We only open our doors twice a year, so do join while you can find out more by clicking on the link in the show notes.

It’s wonderful to have with me on the podcast today, Annie Hanekom. Now Annie is a business coach. She’s a leadership practitioner, and she specialises in team interactions. She’s also the co-host with me in the Resilient Team Academy. So welcome, Annie.

Annie: Hi, Rachel. Lovely to be back again.

Rachel: Yeah, you’ve been on several times before so I wanted to get you back to share a little bit of wisdom because I’ve got a mini series out at the moment all about how to say no and how to set boundaries so that we can deal with some of the overwhelm that we’re getting. And I wanted to get you on the podcast and pick your brains about how to do this because I’ve noticed amongst a lot of my work with healthcare professionals and other professionals in really high stress jobs, that if you ask them what they want to work on, they say, ‘I want to be able to say no, I need to be able to say no. It’s really, really difficult.’ Do you find that with the teams that you work with?

Annie: Yeah, it’s interesting, Rachel, because I know that, you know, some of my work expands into the corporate space, or primarily sits in the corporate space. And what I’ve really observed, particularly now that there’s this kind of hybrid working environment, and things are going back to what’s supposed to be normal, but it’s not. And so there’s a little bit of ‘How do I just make this work?’ There’s almost not even the recognition of ‘I can say no.’ It’s a really tough place for people at the moment. And even people who felt they weren’t in high stress jobs previously are suddenly facing stresses that they didn’t face before.

Rachel: It’s interesting that, because I thought it was only healthcare professionals that really thought they couldn’t say no, but do you think that’s pretty universal?

Annie: Yeah, there’s a have to, must, you know, I need to — it’s tied to so many kind of expectations in our heads, I guess, or what we feel we can or can’t say no to. And so that even recognising that there’s a choice here, yeah, I think a lot of people are stuck there. I’m definitely noticing more of that, or it’s more prevalent than it certainly was a couple of years ago.

Rachel: I think this issue of saying no, is difficult. It can feel a little bit negative to always be talking to people about how to say no. I guess what I’m observing is that, certainly in healthcare, I think lots and lots of other organisations, is that overwhelming overwork is normal, or since it’s not normal, it is the norm. And it seems to be the case that people have just got used to trying to do more work than they know they can actually do.

Whenever we coach doctors, whenever we talk to groups about this, a lot of people are very focused on trying to fit more into their days. Actually, the way to solve this problem of spiralling escalating workloads is just to do more, and it’s just the work harder and harder and harder. But that then, isn’t working. So the only thing you can do, rather than try and be more efficient, is to actually cut some stuff out. And that is really challenging for people, isn’t it?

Annie: Yeah, and it’s interesting. So much of it sits at the very senior levels of just needing to hold so much. And recognising that there’s a toughness out there. And knowing that needing to support the people, knowing that needing to pivot thinking different ways, loads going on as things are starting to balance and normalise again, that what is that? Because it’s not how it used to be. And so there’s taking so much on it at very senior levels in organisations.

But then also at the more junior levels, it’s almost, at those two extremes, there’s needing to prove themselves, coming into quite a tough workspace. There isn’t even the option of saying no, because that’s maybe saying that I can’t cope, I can’t manage, I’m not good enough, or I’m not clever enough. So these narratives play out in a way that really stops people really seeing, ‘What is it that I need to be focused on?’ gets completely clouded.

So this just taking on more and more and more. It’s not to say this doesn’t happen throughout, you know, all levels, but certainly I’m seeing it at very senior levels, and at very junior levels as well.

Rachel: So it’s something that does not get role models very well at all. And in fact, I think the senior you are, the more likely you are to have issues in saying no, partly I think in healthcare, you’ve got the saviour complex — ‘if I don’t do it, who else is going to do it? I’m the only person that can help out here.’ I think healthcare professionals worry a lot about getting complaints if they say no to someone, and it’s the patient, or it’s supposedly their job. What if somebody complains? Or what if they upset people and nobody likes upsetting people, do they?

Annie: Also to be fair, you know, sometimes there are pretty severe consequences if you say no, you know. I’d say you really have to hold someone’s wellbeing and and realise that, you know, you are there to serve them. The challenge comes when every single case gets put into the same bucket, I think. So it’s that discernment gets clouded because, absolutely, there are many times that it needs to be a yes, it needs to be taking it on even when it’s putting on more pressure.

But I think that there are times that it’s not always a yes, and actually, what is not clear and needs to be clearer is behind every yes, there’s a no. And what are you saying no to? What does that mean in the longer term in terms of more people that you are able to support? Team members that are able to take some of the strain off you, supporting them, empowering them, giving them the space to be able to grow and develop, get the rest and recuperation they need so that tomorrow we come back with a much clearer view of actually there are more people who are able to help here. And more people are feeling satisfied and engaged in their jobs because of how we’ve led them not being so up against it all the time that everything has to be a yes.

We’re not recognising what that is at the cost of. And as much as in the theory that sounds really straightforward, there is still the element of but that does need space, we really do need just those windows of space and time to think ‘Hang on. I am saying yes.’ Does this necessarily need to be a yes, because what is it at the cost of?

Rachel: Yeah, and it’s very short termism, isn’t it? I always liken this to the difference between having a tetanus injection, which that hurts at the time. But it’s an awful lot better than having tetanus in the long term. Right. But quite often we acquiesce to requests. We find it very difficult to say no to things that we shouldn’t actually be doing because short term, it’s quite difficult. It feels really uncomfortable. We’re worried about upsetting people, but we don’t look at the long term consequences of ‘if I say yes to this, what is that that I then can’t see?’ And we can sit very easily when doctors are trying to deal with patients who bring in multiple problems. And to say no to someone, ‘Sorry, I can’t actually deal with that problem right now because you’ve already been here for 20 minutes.’ That’s really, really difficult, but particularly if the person gets quite irate.

It’s easier to placate that person in front of you than to think, ‘Actually, I’ve still got 10 patients waiting, what are they thinking in the waiting room?’ Or, ‘How are they going to feel and they end up being incredibly late because I’ve acquiesced here, and I’ve said yes to this person?’ Because I think it’s interesting what you said about the consequences of saying no, and you’re absolutely right. In health care, there can be really quite serious consequences of saying no, in which case you wouldn’t do it. Like, if you’re saying no to doing that urgent blood result, and that urgent blood result is very, very serious, and that person needs to be contacted, and you’ve said no to doing that. And that person could have significant harm caused — of course, you’re gonna say yes. Of course, you’re gonna do that.

But I’ve observed that when we struggle to say no, it’s not to stuff that’s going to have serious consequences. It’s often to stuff that just might cause a bit of inconvenience to someone, or someone might be a little bit put out or might not think we’re such superhero as we were, or they’re just not happy. And we really fear that. We really fear upsetting people, and that tends to be the main reason why we don’t say no.

Annie: As you’ve talked very logically through that, there’s almost, I want to add pace to what you’re saying, because this is the challenge, I think, that people face is this, this and this and this, and that comes at you, and this comes at you and that request and that demand. There’s a pace, that means we stopped being able to discern, which is exactly what you speaking into there of what we call the urgency trap. And so you stop being able to work out of, ‘is this a blood result that needs my attention right now, because it really does have big consequences. And that really is my job and my job alone. I need to pay attention to that.’

Or, is this a request from someone who’s now got into the habit of just asking for the same thing over and over again, but actually, it really can wait? In fact, if it waits, they might even have chance to reflect on it themselves, figure out a solution. And maybe you won’t be needed at all, whatever that might be, it doesn’t need to be a yes right now. So what we talk about there is to actually have some space in your day, some mindshare, that just allows you to pause enough to go, ‘Does this need my attention right now?’ It might still be a yes, just not right now.

And within that space, there lies a number of other solutions of, someone else might come in to help and who knows that might be able to solve it. There’s the self reflection element, or there’s just you’re being able to attend to the things that need your attention in the right way. So those sort of boundaries are helping you realise that there’s different grades of yes or no. And so we feel like this element of saying no means I’m not good enough, going back to that narrative in our heads of, you know, we attach self worth and are we worthy of being here to the fact that we have to say yes all the time. And it’s almost the flip because again, as you were saying, it’s the short termism. It’s the losing view of the future focus at the cost of what I know the immediate consequences, which is, ‘I’ll feel bad. I’ll feel guilty. I have to’. And we get stuck into this habit of just reacting immediately, and then it always feels like it needs to be a yes.

Rachel: I think one thing that we do need to say is that it’s a perfectly normal human reaction to not want to upset people and to feel that we’ve got to please them or we feel we’ve got to say yes because we’re hardwired to live in caves, where actually having the group acceptance, having people like us, is really important. Because if the group didn’t like you, you’d be chucked out of the cave, you would die of exposure, or eaten by a lion, or both.

So people pleasing is not a weakness. It’s actually the way our brains are wired. And if we are doing something that goes against that, like saying no to something, that’s really that’s really tricky. And our amygdala’s go ‘Ahh! Threat, threat, threat, threat, threat!’ pushes into our sympathetic nervous, then into our fight, flight or freeze zone, which we call being in the corner. And so when we’re in the corner, it’s really difficult to think straight. So sometimes we might not even be able to think of how to say no, we just react and go, ‘Yeah, yeah. All right, then.’ So I think something that that you talk a lot Annie, which I love, is this concept of the pause button. Tell me a little bit about how the pause button helps in those circumstances.

Annie: It does so often come back to this and I, you know, even just as I was talking earlier, it’s that thing of, if you’re going to discern does this need to be yes, right now or not? What is this at the cost of, and there’s a whole lot of things, if we’re really realistic about that, what some of those consequences are in the longer term? Any of those thoughts require a pause, right, even if it’s a ten-second pause, even if it’s a check-in with self, then we just breathe, come down to like a normal heart rate, get a handle on myself, it’s a pause. it’s a pause in a moment; just stop the immediate reaction.

So as you spoke there about the ‘in the corner response’, the reflex reaction, the knee jerk, whatever the response might be, which is the habit we often fall into. It’s the habit we’ve created for ourselves because of, and as I took the pace up earlier, and how I was speaking, it was just to emulate the level of our thinking, because as we’re thinking quickly and things are happening fast, we want to react.

And if we can just pause, we allow for the quick reaction of, which is typically ‘I need to say yes, because that’s what I’m here for and that’s where I get my worth, and that’s what’s needed.’ The pause helps us to find another option. The pause helps us to realise, we actually do have choice.

And in that choices, a longer term view, because if we entertained for a moment what it’s at the cost of, it might be the well being of my staff, or someone working around me or my colleague, who now suddenly in that pause moment, I can recognise is really close to losing it. And that’s the fourth time this week. And actually this carries on. This is not a good situation long term. This is why people might leave their job or book long term time off just to rest and recuperate. It’s a much longer term strategy to get back on my feet again.

If I can’t, in the moment, pause and go, ‘Actually, I’m realising that the stakes are pretty high right here around me. And yes, there’s a patient or client who needs my support.’ But actually, if I pause for a moment, I can recognise that the three staff members supporting me have equally high urgency needs right now. And then I can discern and take a moment, even if in that moment to yes to that patient. But I’m very clear that directly after that, I need to turn my attention to something that has a longer term impact or needing attention in the moment for a longer term gain. So that the pause can look quite different.

The pause can also be actually I was going to attend something this evening that I felt duty bound to do because it was linked to work, and it was a engagement that might give me some further insight to learning more about something I need to know. Or, it’s actually, I’m gonna have time with my family. I’m just gonna put my feet up and just gonna get my evening back for myself to pause. It might be a longer pause that is actually taking time out or this weekend, I’d made a whole bunch of plans when I had some time out. I’m not going to do those. I’m going to pause.

So you can see how the pause can be in the moment. They can also be that longer stretch of really recognising that I need time and space so that ultimately I’m making better decisions when I’m in the hot seat.

Rachel: I think it’s also possible to create some artificial pauses as well. So it’s perfectly okay to say, ‘Can I have a think about that and get back to you?’ Or, ‘Do you mind if I check my diary?’ Or something I’ve used, ‘I just need to go and get a second opinion, I’ll call you back.’ So something just to allow you to get yourself out of the situation, calm your physiology down, get back into your parasympathetic zone from your sympathetic zone.

And when you’re feeling a bit better, when you feel that actually you’re, you’re thinking with your rational human thinking brain, rather than your amygdala, stress threats brain, you can think, ‘Okay, what story am I telling myself in my head here? What am I telling myself?’ And you’ve already talked about some of these earlier: I should do. I ought to. A good doctor would do this, a helpful colleague. I can’t possibly inconvenience someone. It’s selfish to go home on time. All those sorts of stories that we tell ourselves that mean that we cave in and we say yes.

Then even worse, if we then have said no, we get some pushback, we reinforce the stories. So if I say no to someone, and they moan back at me or get a bit annoyed with me, and I’m already thinking, ‘Oh, I’m a bad person for saying no, I ought to say no.’ And someone says, ‘Well, that’s not very collaborative of you, Rachel,’ then what’s going to happen? That’s going to absolutely reinforce the story that I’m telling myself.

So what, I guess, I’ve observed in lots and lots of professionals and healthcare professionals and people working in all sorts of different industries is that we do try and say no. We do try and put the boundaries in, but as soon as we get any sort of pushback, those boundaries crumble because we find it very, very difficult to cope with.

Annie: Yeah, and what’s interesting in that as well, is ‘no’ feels like a pretty clear, definitive no. And yet, we also need to realise this is not a completely binary space, because actually, there are times when I can say, ‘No, I can’t get that to you by tomorrow. But I can get it to you by Monday.’ And so there’s a no, that also means ‘I can do this, I just can’t do it in the timeline that you’re requiring.’ And then see what comes back from that.

Because so often people like, ‘Oh, okay, yeah, I can work with that if I move the few things around.’ Or sometimes they go, ‘Ah, okay, I can see that you’ve got a lot on. I might just ask someone else.’ Or there might be another option somewhere else. And so we also just need to push things. It’s the push back, right, that’s pushing back in a way that’s allowing respect for yourself, and allowing someone else then to see if they can work within those new boundaries that you’ve set, which is not saying no entirely, I’m just saying not in this timeframe. But I can do it by then. And to your point, ‘Could you just give me a moment to think about that and I’ll come back to you tomorrow.’

So you say, ‘No, not now. But I can get back to you by tomorrow’, and you haven’t said it as a no. You’re going, ‘Yeah, absolutely. Can I get back to you tomorrow on that?’ That makes a huge difference to even just our own space to go, ‘Oh, I didn’t have to be reactive there.’ So often, the urgency with which your request comes to us doesn’t have that real urgency attached to it, necessarily. And we can quite quickly work that out by just allowing for some space in what our response to them might be. It’s a useful strategy.

Rachel: The other strategy, I think, is really helpful when saying no is to be able to prioritise your work. Because so often, when we say no, we’re not really sure what we should be saying yes to, what we should be saying no to before we feel really, really guilty. Whereas if we know, our three priorities and work today are x, y, z, like, ‘I have to edit this podcast this afternoon. So Annie, I’m afraid I can’t have take that I can’t have that call with you then. Because this has a deadline, has to get out.’ Much, much easier to say that and you can articulate your why. Then it’s just a factual thing. It’s not a like a, ‘Oh, I’m denying Annie and she’ll be put out.’ It’s just like, ‘No, I’ve got this, I’m really sorry’ type thing.

So many teams don’t really know what their main focus and their main priorities should be probably because they’re so overwhelmed with the work. There’s so much coming in. And sometimes they feel they’ve got to do it all. But often it’s because they haven’t taken the time to actually get together and really thresh out between them what is it that we’re really going to focus on? So what we’re going to say yes to with purpose so that we can actually say no to all the other stuff.

Annie: Yeah, there are two parts to that. One is absolutely as you say, what are your key focus areas right now? What are the priorities that mean you really can shift forward? These are the things that you absolutely need space for in your day. Might be blocks of time that you commit to those sorts of activities. And what else? What are other things that also need to be happening? Maybe not today, but within this week, and so you’re very clear about the things that help you serve on those priority items, you would clearly have a higher priority on what you say yes to.

So having that clarity for you, for your team, for those who work closely with is really, really useful, particularly when a request comes in that is not in line with those, particularly from someone more senior, what’s useful about being prepared enough with that sort of list of priorities is to say, if this is something that really does need to be completed on which of these things that I’m going to be working on do I need to then compromise? And can you help me just figure that out? And so that then becomes a conversation, which means you’re not stretching yourself further. You are figuring out what goes at the cost of being able to take on a new priority. You’re not just taking on the more, more, more.

The other element to this, aside from the practical prioritisation, which is hugely useful, is also being very clear on what your values are in the work that you do. What I mean by that is, if you are very clear about what for you, personally, is something you value very highly as to what really matters to you, what really matters to you and your work, what really matters to you, personally, because the whole human being comes to work, right? We don’t slice ourselves in half and send the work half off to work, and then the other half stays home. So we’re one package. And so what our values are across work and life, in general, really matter. And what I mean by this, what are those things that are non negotiables for you,?

Sarah Middleton refers to this, and it works, she does, talking about core and flex. That stuff that’s core to us, that’s absolutely critical. And flex, meaning the stuff that, ‘yeah, don’t much matter if it happens, or doesn’t happen. Or if it happens this way, or happens that way. I don’t really mind.’ But the core stuff is stuff that’s really in your value set.

So using a simple example of, for me, punctuality really, really matters. It’s just really important. So if someone asks me to do something, and I know that it’s really going to impact my showing up for something that I’ve committed to on time, it’s a pretty easy no, or it’s a pretty easy negotiation to figure out how to negotiate on that, because there’s a non negotiable or it’s something I’ve committed to turn up to. So when unclear on that, and I know that that’s a value that I absolutely won’t mess with, it makes that pushback so much easier. Because saying yes would mess with a core value, and I’m not okay with that. And that conflict, I’m happy to avoid, and then the conversation about how I manage that is a conversation about how I manage that, not, I’ve taken it on, and now I’m really in a conundrum because I’m trying to hold on to things that I don’t know what to do with.

When things are in my flex, like, what I’m wearing, or how I look, oh, I’m going to run out of time in terms of getting myself ready and putting on all my makeup. I’m like, ‘It’s okay, that really is not important to me.’ And so I know I can let that go. And so you know, silly little example, but it’s really just showing that things that don’t matter much to me. It’s okay if some yeses, impact on those things that are not all that important. And so there’s a values piece. And then there’s a work priorities piece. And if we be clear on those, conversation’s so much easier.

If I can throw an example in there that is really quite straightforward is my kids matter to me. We all know that if something’s going to impact or negatively affect the well being of our children or our family. It’s just not even a question, right? You can see how easy the pushback is, when it’s something that’s going to impact the well being or safety of our family. So it’s in line with that philosophy of if we’re just very clear about what we value and what’s really high on our priority list. It’s a really useful way of just being able to be very clear about what’s a yes or no.

Rachel: It’s interesting, Annie, as you say that, and I don’t think anyone listening to this would say, ‘No, my family is not important to me, the well being of my kids, the well being of my family unit isn’t,’ yet for some reason, that seems to get into our flex zone. So would you stay a little bit later or you feel you’ve got to stay a bit late. You can’t say no to stuff, which means you’ve got to stay a bit later, which over time, that does affect the well being of our families and the well being of our relationships and all those sorts of things, but because it’s so insidious, if it was like, ‘Are you going to do something that’s going to instantly end your marriage?’ No, that’s definitely not going to happen.

But are you going to be just working that little bit too long, just miss too many dinner dates, just be back too late, miss just that few things that chip away at perhaps your relationship? Well, you know, unless you’ve got that in your core boundaries, you’re saying, ‘No, I’m not going to do that,’ then it chips away at it. So sometimes it is really important to actually think back to what is really important. What are the long term consequences if this happens again, and again, and again, and again?

Annie: And that, Rachel, it’s such a lovely point to loop us back to what we were talking about at the beginning, around the short termism and how easy it is to get caught in that loop and not pause, discern, and go, ‘What is this at the cost of?’

I mean, I spoke earlier about the well being and the service of our colleagues and the people that are important to us and our teams and those we work alongside. Same applies to our families and our family life and the well being of our children and the state of our marriages and relationships around us. And so the pause, stop, discern ‘What might this be at the cost of?’ Maybe not tonight. But if I do it again, tomorrow night, and the next and the next and making and choosing this work over the long term health and well being of my family system, my friends, whatever it is that I actually value highly and so lovely pullback to where the pause really can serve you in moments where it doesn’t feel that obvious.

Rachel: If I go back to saying no. And the sort of sister of saying no, of setting boundaries. So thinking actually, this is what I will do. This is what I won’t do. And saying no comes into that. I’ve got this thing about boundaries at the moment. And I’m sure listeners heard me saying this before. But you know, healthcare professionals always sell really bad with boundaries. Really bad with boundaries, actually, that they’re not bad with boundaries, they’re very good at saying these are my boundaries. This is what I don’t like. What we’re not so good at is dealing with the pushback that we get if we try and enforce the boundaries, particularly if someone’s upset, like we were talking about earlier, or someone’s a bit put out by it. So increasingly, I’m thinking, we need to get comfortable with being able to tolerate the pushback.

And so I was just wondering, what techniques and tips and tools are there that help us just tolerate that pushback? I mean, we’ve already talked about knowing what your non negotiables are, knowing what’s really important, which then helps you say no with purpose, really. And so if you get pushed back, it’s still, you know, ‘Annie, no, you can’t just fit that call in.’ ‘I’m sorry, Rachel, I’m gonna be late for that meeting.’ Therefore, it really is a no. Oh, but that’s, you know, that’s really inconvenient. ;I’m really sorry, but this is what I’m doing.’ You can tolerate that pushback, because it’s a very strong core value, and the boundary for you. But what about if people do complain? But what about if people insinuate that you’re not doing your job well? How do we deal with that?

Annie: And that’s what’s gonna happen, right? You know, we can’t control pushback, complaints, other people’s space, their reactions to us. That is always going to be there in some form, in our family lives or in our professional lives. And so this, firstly, just the recognition of that, that is what it is. We don’t have to step into that zone and feel caught in it, and it’s something that we’re stuck in. You can feel that, but that’s absolutely stepping into a space that you can’t control. So that is absolutely around recognising, and we talk about the zone of power of sitting right in the centre going, ‘What can I do in this interaction, in this moment, in the stuckness that I might be feeling when people really are pushing back at us’ and going, ‘What is the what is the narrative I’m telling myself here? What’s the story in my head? What is it that I’m telling myself here?’

And so when someone’s pushing back at us so often, it’s the ‘I have to. This is my role. I must’, and we get caught very much into almost talking ourselves into there is no other option but to be in the serve and supporting and helping someone else, or responding with a yes because it’s the easy route. It’s the only route out.

So, really, checking ourselves to say, ‘What is it I’m telling myself here? And how much choice or control do I really have in what my response is?’ Now sometimes, in that very moment, there might be that you need to deal that as it comes at you. But the wherewithal that you have, the clarity that you have in terms of how you’re able to deal that in the longer term really comes from understanding that how you’re dealing with someone and the language that you’re using is so indicative of where you place yourself in that interaction. So as soon as you’re saying, ‘Oh, I’m sorry, but I can’t’, ‘Do I have to’, or ‘I’d love to, but…’, or ‘I’ll aim to’, or ‘I’ll try’, and we get ourselves caught in a space where, actually, we have completely disempowered ourselves.

So we’re not able to put front foot forward with a very clear, this is my reason, and this is my choice as to why I will, or I won’t, be able to be to support you. And what we talk about there is being very clear about the language that we are using. And so as soon as we’re in a space of saying, ‘I can’t’, ‘I wish I could’, ‘I’ll try’, ‘I’ll aim’ — we call it pain language — we actually are in what we call a victim space. And we have almost talked ourselves into, ‘I have no control. It’s not my choice. I’m stuck here.’ And it’s amazing how, without really knowing it’s all in the subconscious space, the person that we’re communicating with is able to just keep moving in, because actually, there’s almost a powerlessness in us to resist that.

As soon as we recognise that we actually do have a choice, and we are able to say, using power language, ‘I will’ or ‘I choose’ — and those are empowering words — it is amazing how it changes the tone of the conversation, even with the person that you are communicating with on one level, and how it changes our own perspective of what is happening. And so, Rachel, you even made an indication earlier about ‘I’m sorry, I have to leave early and fetch my child.’ No, you don’t. And then we kind of fight that going, ‘Oh, I have to’ when you don’t. And people— even I can understand how, even now, people would go and, ‘But you do. You have to you have to go and fetch your child.’ No, you don’t.

As soon as you can realise that you are choosing to fetch your child. And I’m using that as an example because we’re back into the venue space of something that no one will push back against to say, yeah, you’ve got to fetch your kid from football or school or wherever they might be. Or you’ve got to go to a family member who needs your help — you don’t have to. You are choosing to because it’s a high value for you. You are choosing to go home at a certain time because it’s a high value for you. And you’ve recognised that that’s in the long term. What is so important about this is, linked to this value piece, linked to the priorities that you know you want do, to pay attention to, in your and your work in your life should come the language to match it, which is I’m choosing to do this work. I’m choosing to say yes to these patients or these requests for these demands. And even though it’s hard, and even though it’s challenging me, but to my core, I’m choosing to do that because it’s in service of the work that I’ve agreed to do.

And I’m choosing to say yes to this person on my team because empowering them as a priority right now and making sure they are up to standard, feeling like they can do the work, feeling heard, feeling a part of this team. I’m choosing to fetch my child from school. The consequences they’d sit on the pavement and be really upset. So I’m choosing for that not to be a consequence, but not ‘I have to.’ And not, ‘I’m sorry, I am choosing to leave this engagement early or this day or this meeting now because I will be fetching my child from school’, or ‘I will be attending to the staff member who need my support.’

And so Rachel, it doesn’t necessarily help you in that moment of that engagement, or it doesn’t help you every single time and you do get pulled into something and ‘Ahh! Don’t let that happen! I’m on call again.’ But that’s the awareness that starts to build resilience in us to go ‘Oh, that was an example of where I got pulled in.’ And it will happen again, but I’m realising now that that was an example of where I actually didn’t have strong enough resolve. Or I hadn’t built my team up in such a way that I could depend on them in that moment. Wow, I need to start noticing more when that’s happening against either my values or the priorities I’ve set for me and my team.

Rachel: I love that, that language of ‘I choose to, so that’ because you’re putting your values in there, you’re putting the long term outcomes, and you’re just staying in your zone of power because it’s your choice. You’re choosing to do this, and I love that and that’s been so helpful. So I think there’s a couple of things there, Annie. The first one is expecting pushback. Don’t be surprised. Don’t be surprised when people aren’t happy. Like, when I asked my kids to clear the table after dinner, they never jump up and go, ‘Yes, mum. I’ve been waiting for this moment all day.’ I generally get some moaning, and I expect that. So it’s never a surprise to me. I don’t particularly like the moaning.

But I’m like, ‘Oh, yeah, of course, you’re moaning. You’re teenagers. Who likes cleaning the table? Thank you. Thanks, guys. That’s great.’ So don’t go, ‘Oh, okay, that’s fine.’ You don’t do it, you go, ‘Yeah, I’m choosing to ask them to clear the table. And I’m choosing not to back down, because this will make them into better human beings.‘

So expect that pushback when you enforce your boundaries or you say no, and once you expected that push back, use power language, not pain language — that ‘I choose to say that’ rather than ‘I have to. I ought to. I really should.’ And that’s really helpful. I think there’s another couple of things that can help here as well, Annie, and we talk about air cover. Air cover.

And for me, this is really important, particularly when working with a team in really high stress jobs that if you know that you have said no to something, and your team has agreed that you will all say no to that and it’s not a priority, you know that they’ve got your backs, then actually, you can put up with a lot more pushback, and you can really stand your ground and you feel much more secure in doing that.

So I remember I was once working in a practice where one of the partners said, ‘Look, this is what we want you to do. And if you say no about this to patients, we’ve 100% got your back because this is the practice policy.’ And that was just so helpful to hear. I think we need to do that for each other much, much more in teams, you know. Think, okay, when we’re asked to do this, what we’re going to do, how are we going to back each other up so that we’re not exposed and vulnerable to those to all those complaints and things that can happen if you do stand up against pushback.

Annie: That’s so interesting because what’s coming to me is this statement that Brene Brown uses often which is ‘To be clear is to be kind. Clarity is kindness.’ We so often want to, the nature of so many people in health care, the nature of those who want to support and help is to want to help and so we know it feels hard because we want to then we sugarcoat and we go into maybes and we go ‘yes, but’.

And again, we enter pain language here, right? We’re going into the zone of it’s not clear because we’re not saying an absolute yes or no, which is when you’ve just spoken about. Air cover’s similar, right? Because we’ve got to go, this is what we’re doing, that what we’re not doing. This is what we’re backing each other up on. This is what we’re not— that’s called boundaries, that clarity, right? It’s clear, it’s kind in the longer term. But what’s also suddenly landed to me, and I want to share this, because it certainly impacted me when I first heard it. And it’s a sales strategy, actually. But it’s really landing here, which is and my old sage mentor, Kevin, told this to me, which is ‘A yes or no, will feed you for life. A maybe will starve you forever.’

And so what that saying is that when you are waiting on an answer from someone, when you are not quite sure whether it’s gonna go a yes or no, that can drag on for ages and ages and ages in a sales process. But equally when you are trying to manage a team or manage yourself or be very clear about what’s in and what’s out. Oh, maybe we’ll do this or maybe that, think about air cover. Are we supporting this? Or are we not? Or is this a yes? Is it a no? Absolute clarity is so important, so the yes and the no will serve you. The maybe is just a grey zone that no one quite knows what to do with. And so being clear is ultimately just is the kindness that we need in the long run.

Rachel: That’s really interesting. I had an email from someone recently, and sometimes I send back at all ‘Well, maybe let’s…’ And this time I thought, I just need to say actually, no. And the email I got back was, ‘Thank you so much for just clarifying that. That’s really helpful.’ So actually, people feel much more— they know where they are, don’t they, with a yes and a no. And I, for me, it’s really about integrity as well. It’s about let your yes be your yes. And let your no be your no and mean it.

Annie: And people really respect you for that. You know, in the moment they might not, but actually, if you were doing that, and I love what you’ve said there about being in integrity, because you’re not messing with your values. You’re not dropping being a good professional. You’re just being very clear about what you are focused on and what’s going to serve you to do your best work, support your people in the way that you want to be doing that, and turn up tomorrow ready to do the best job you possibly can.

Rachel: And that’s really interesting. A thought’s just occurring to me now is when we don’t say no, it is an actual question of integrity. Because if we are just saying a maybe, and we don’t really mean it, we actually mean no, but we can’t face saying no. And we might do that job very half heartedly if we do it at all, or we procrastinate. That is not— that is not right. Actually. So if we were to view this not giving a clear no as a question of integrity, then maybe that’s going to encourage people to say, ‘Actually, no, I really do need to say this, because that is not fair on either of us if I just fudge this.’

Annie: It means two things there, one of them is: catch yourself on the feeling bad front. But also, this is where take the time to be very clear about what is a yes and what is a no. It could be an integrity issue, well deep down we actually know. Or we’re just so busy and stuck in the urgency trap that we say yes because it’s just the next thing on the list, and we haven’t discerned whether it’s important to us or not. So yeah, again, those two fronts, we really need to take the time to just get really clear.

Rachel: I think this is where air cover can also help. So you’ve got the air cover of backing each other up with your yeses and your nos. Right? So you know everyone’s on the same page. So someone’s not going to stand out like a sore thumb if they’re saying no, actually, everyone’s going to. But also, for me part of air cover is having a group of people around me that know me, that I can go to, ‘Do you think I should say yes or no? What do you think?’ And they could go, ‘Clearly, Rachel, that’s a no. We know you. Come on, that’s obvious.’ And I have not been able to see that. So I think you need your tribe around you.

That can be quite an informal thing. You need to, you know, seek them out. But you’re not often going to get some people that are designated no-sayers for you. But you need to seek out those people that you respect. They’ve got bit of wisdom that you can bounce ideas off. And you can do that when you’re taking your pause. And that’s really very helpful. Phone a friend, ask them, talk to them, think about what they want. Oh, my husband’s very good at this for me. I say, ‘Oh, what do you think about this?’ He goes, ‘No.’ It’s a really good reality check. He’s like, ‘You said yes to that?’ or whatever. So that’s quite helpful.

Surround yourself with people that get you, understand your values, understand that sometimes you probably are your own worst enemy and can do that. Because it’s quite, it’s a lot easier just to tell someone else they should say no than to say no yourself.

Annie: Yeah, and I think there’s also something about building accountability in your work, because, you know, as well as empowering other people through this strategy, actually, because if you have someone in your team who might be junior to you, that might be newer to the team or practice, and you are able to say, actually, I’m really clear about this is something I want to really work on, making sure I push back against and say no to so that I can make more space for these things, or those activities, or those patients. Give someone in your team that you almost invite in to be your accountability partner. There’s a permissioning there, right? They’re almost able to watch what you are demonstrating the pressures that are new to some degree to go ‘Wow, I better not just fudge this because someone’s looking to me, potentially learning from me.’

And so there’s inbuilt learning and accountability, where someone can really go, ‘Oh, yeah. My boss or wife, partner or someone and’, you know, ‘he’s working alongside me, is looking to me to support them’ is a really interesting relationship that we can start to build there. As well as then having someone close in or around us that can keep us to account. So I think that’s a really lovely strategy. You know, we use that in training all the time, right? But, actually, to use that in your daily working practices, I think, is a really good way of building sorts of kind of team connection and team learning.

Rachel: So Annie, we’re nearly out of time. I think the topic of saying no and eliminating stuff from your days is a huge one. We probably need to revisit this but if you’re gonna come up with three top tips right now for listeners, what would they be?

Annie: One is, really, find the value of the pause even if it’s right at the start of your day. Sometimes it’s before you’ve even got busy is just take a pause, look at your day and think about how you want to show up for that. So that’s a good starting point to at least lodge that in.

Really think about what is the costs of saying yes to stuff, what’s behind that. So if you can just start to integrate ‘what is this at the cost of’ and use the pause during your day or even at the start to reflect on what is all these yeses at the cost of in the longer term.

And then the third one is really just to be… I’ve got a lot that’s coming up for me but there’s this, there’s a hardness in a lot of this. It feels quite hard to be pushing back and saying no to stuff, is be kind to yourself. Back yourself, you know what you really need to do. And there’s a kindness in you that is driving all of this and recognise that. So I think sometimes we can be way too hard on ourselves. And actually, if you can recognise the goodness in you that’s really driving these decisions, or that need to have boundaries. That’ll really just pave the way.

Rachel: Thank you. I’ve just got a couple of top tips. Number one, know what your yeses are, know what your priorities are, so that you know what your nos are. Number two, expect pushback go, ‘oh, yeah, that’s the pushback, I was expecting that. And then you can deal with it.’ Use power language. ‘I choose to so that’ because we always have a choice. Get some air cover around you. Look at who you’ve got the look at who’s in your tribe, and seek people out if you need to. And then finally, I would say get help with some of this because this isn’t easy. So you might need to phone a friend. You might need to get some coaching, you might need to, you know, ask for help from a wise mentor or something like that.

Because this stuff, it takes a while. And when you are dealing with quite significant pushback, that can really be quite tricky. And I just wanted to mention the Resilient Team Academy because Annie and I host the Resilient Team Academy, which is an online membership for busy leaders in healthcare. And we talk about this stuff all the time. The Resilient Team Academy exists to help you, as leaders, support your team with all this sort of stuff — with prioritising, with managing your workload, with well being, with having better conversations, helps you do that with your team without burning out yourself. So we provide training, we provide the Shapes Toolkit tools, we teach it to you. We provide little bite size videos for you to use with your team. And we have deep dive webinars every month, which you can attend live or watch on catch up if you want to.

So there’s a lot more stuff that we delve into and give you the ways of having these conversations with your team. For example, we provide conversation campuses all around the prioritisation grid: how to prioritise with your teams, how to have those conversations, how to have a conversation around what’s in your zone of power, what’s outside of your zone of power, and all those sorts of things.

Annie: And I think, Rachel, also what I’ve certainly observed has been such a huge benefit for people is that sense of community, and I’m not alone. I’m not figuring this stuff out on my own. There’s just an amazing community that comes together and supports one another. I know, for some, we certainly have the feedback that it’s really just been such a good sense of community and of support, which is one of the things that you spoke about, Rachel, has been so crucial to so many.

Rachel: Yeah, it’s good air cover. If you need some air cover, come and join the Resilient Team Academy. So the Resilient Team Academy is open, we only open our doors twice a year, so prefer a couple of weeks. So if you’re interested to click on the link in the show notes to find out more you can join individually or as an organisation, and if you’ve got any questions to get in touch with us. So Annie, thank you so much for coming on the podcast. If people want to get ahold of you, how can they find you?

Annie: Oh, thanks, Rachel. It’s always so lovely to have these conversations. And so I’m at annie@shapestoolkit.com, and you can certainly find me at the Resilient Team Academy.

Rachel Morris: Yeah. And you’re on LinkedIn as well, I think so you can connect as well. All the usual, all the usual. Brilliant. Great. Well, we’ll get you back soon, and have a good rest of the day.

Annie: Thanks, Rachel. Bye.

Rachel: Thanks for listening. If you’ve enjoyed this episode, then please share it with your friends and colleagues. Please subscribe to my You Are Not A Frog email list and subscribe to the podcast. And if you have enjoyed it then please leave me a rating wherever you listen to your podcasts. So keep well everyone. You’re doing a great job. You got this.