Such a little word, so hard to say

Such a little word, so hard to say


“Yes of course I’ll look after your kids for the weekend, help you move house, bake 150 cupcakes for the school fete, meet that unreasonable work deadline, and spend my Saturday on a cold sporting field manning the canteen!”

Because I want to? Not always. Because I have the time to? Not at all. Because I don’t want to let you down and I wish to seem entirely capable? Absolutely. And most of all because there’s a little word in the English language that women find so hard to say… “No”.

But the truth is when you practice saying “no” to things you shouldn’t do, you actually say “yes” to the most important things in your world. Here’s a little insight into the two little letters that free us and why women need to use them more.

Focusing is about saying no – Steve Jobs

According to Psychology Today, women have a tendency to say yes, even when they shouldn’t because they:

  • Have a fear of conflict – Surprise, surprise, this starts at an early age with an instilled respect for authority. We partly obey out of fear of being punished but also because we have an innate desire to please and be loved by the people important to us.
  • Don’t want to disappoint – Ahh yes, we’re an empathetic bunch, who by and large simply hate to put others “in a pickle” or “let the side down”. That sees us agreeing to tasks, chores, and demanding schedules even when we shouldn’t. And again, it may stem from our upbringing, with an argument girls are encouraged to “play nice”, accommodating the feelings of others.

We need to learn the slow ‘yes’ and the quick ‘no.’ - Warren Buffett

There’s also a school of thought that saying “yes” touches on a nerve rarely discussed. And it comes down to how we wish to appear as women entirely in charge of our newly extended domain. Our forebears fought for the right to careers, voting and equality, and now we have something to prove.

“Yes” I can effortlessly juggle a career and domestic chores. “Yes” I can attend the PTA meeting, football practice and still run the Commonwealth Bank. “Yes” I can survive on three hours sleep, run marathons and whip up a mean Cordon Bleu. Walk into my house you’ll find it spotless, walk into my office and you’ll be impressed. But talk to me about what I did for myself, and you might find the answers lacking.

The art of leadership is saying no, not saying yes - Tony Blair

The truth is the ultimate empowerment might be the act of saying “No”. It’s little coincidence these quotes come from powerful men accustomed to using the word to effect.

Quite simply, these two little letters allow us to:

  • Establish boundaries
  • Reduce the possibility of being taken advantage of
  • Be selfish in a way that’s not that selfish at all. (Consider the airline principle where you apply the oxygen mask to yourself before others, because more people benefit if you do!)
  • Preserve your energy
  • Find clarity
  • Have the time to replenish

So, maybe you can’t meet that deadline, and you won’t be found in the canteen. Tomorrow your house won’t be spotless. Why? Because you said “no”.

In doing so you said “yes” to endless hours of playing with your children, strolling the beach with no timeframe, reflecting on the wonder of life, and giving yourself room for thought.

The result? It may turn out you’re all the more empowered, capable and resilient than previously  imagined through the use of a single word.


Cassandra Charlesworth is a features writer with 20 years’ journalism experience. She loves a good old-fashioned story and getting to the heart of a great yarn. She’s also a mum to three children who have encouraged her to hone some secret skills. Nimbly navigating Lego pieces left on her loungeroom floor and creating stylish Barbie attire from all manner of household objects are just a couple of credentials she’s recently added to her resume.

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