I Struggle to Say ‘No’! How to Respond with Respect

by | Nov 2, 2015 | 6 comments

A few weeks ago, my husband and I were enjoying a warm lovely evening on the front porch. Or so I thought. If it wasn’t his email or text, he was getting calls. Which he responded to. It was really starting to tick me off so I said something about it.

“How come you work ALL of the time?”

I Struggle to Say 'No'! How to Respond with Respect #YourNextShiftWhile a conversation followed and a cell phone was retired for the rest of the evening, it got me to thinking about how nurses face a similar challenge. And I’m not just talking the calls from the work place.

How many times have you been at your child’s sporting event and another parent comes up to you to ask about a strange ‘thing’ on their kid’s arm? When was the last time you were at a holiday party, and once the host told another guest you were a nurse, you were flooded with questions about lab values? It seems that a nurse’s job is never ‘done’, as we are always running into somebody who needs our help or wants our advice.

So two things come to mind, which are the teaching points in this post. First, let’s flip the switch to something positive. And secondly, I’ll share with you some ways to set respectful boundaries.

[Tweet “Tons of People Asking for Help? How This is a Positive Thing!”]

When my husband was receiving the calls, emails and texts about his work- admittedly, I got pissed. Now, if I were to flip that switch, I could actually view this as a very good thing. Here are some reasons why people coming to you all of the time about your job can actually be a ‘good’ thing:

  • Knowledgeable in Your Role. It shows that people respect what you do. They value your opinion. They trust that you know what you are talking about and have the knowledge and skills to help them.
  • Strong Work Ethic. Well, let’s face it. People can count on you. If they call you, they know that you will be there. That or that they can count on you for coming through in a professional manner. Pretty great trait to have!
  • Great Customer Service. This is certainly true of my hubby, and most likely true of you as well. You make people feel good. You’re kind, welcoming and helpful. People come to you because they can depend on the fact that you will treat them fairly and with respect.

OK, so those are just a few of the ways we can start to see this situation of constantly being called about work in a more positive way. Now let’s move on to how to handle this… because it certainly can get old and overwhelm us for sure!

[Tweet “Can’t Say No? Here Are Three Ways to Respond with Respect”]

  1. Balance Your Responses. I literally encourage you to keep track of your ‘yes’ and ‘no’ responses. Grab paper and pencil and keep a tally. When someone calls you to work extra or do something for them, jot down each time you say ‘yes’ or ‘no’. Then start to balance these out by saying one thing some of the time and feeling empowered to say the other as well.
  2. Create Calling/Writing Hours. This means turning off your electronic devices. So we’re not all in academia and cannot create ‘real’ office hours. Yet if we don’t pick up our phones from say 6-8 pm, we start to train people that during that time they’ll just have to leave a message. Make sure you get back to them in a timely fashion so that you keep your professional appearance up.
  3. Role-Model Boundaries. The best thing to do is walk your talk. When people call or write you, during the initial stages of these new healthy habits, you’ll have to respectfully tell them that this is not a good time for you. Keep consistency with this and don’t let yourself bend for ‘certain’ people. This will only create confusion and an image that’s out of integrity.

I’d love to hear what I missed. What would you add to the list above? How do you think you might go about setting limits in your nursing career? Share a comment below and thanks for reading!

Elizabeth Scala, MSN/MBA, RNAbout the Author: As a keynote speaker, bestselling author and virtual conference host, Elizabeth partners with hospitals, organizations, associations, and nursing groups to help transform the field of nursing from the inside out. As the bestselling author of ‘Nursing from Within‘, Elizabeth guides nurses and nursing students to a change in perspective, helping them make the inner shift needed to better maneuver the sometimes challenging realities of being a caregiver.


  1. Kim Ray RN

    You time, effort, energy are just as important as the person you are saying no too. I know we nurses LOVE TO HELP but sometimes we need to HELP OURSELVES FIRST. Pause for a second and ask yourself, What would be best for me here despite the fact I want to help this person. We have to value ourselves first before we value others.

    • Elizabeth

      Hi Kim,
      Thanks for coming by and taking the time to share your comments. You are spot on when you say we need to help ourselves first. When we do, we can help others so much more effectively! Great share in terms of pausing before answering, thank you for contributing that here. Enjoy the week.

  2. Erica MacDonald RN (@Writer_EricaMac)

    Great post! Most of the time I don’t tell people in public situations that I am a nurse. Because people always want advice or something of you. This saves you from having to say No.

    I think your tip #2 about work hours is definitely a boundary you must commit to yourself before expecting other people to accept it.

    Because honestly… this is a difficult one to do (at least for me). I am in the process of trying to commit to it right now. It is so hard to juggle business and teens. I know it can be done.

    • Elizabeth

      I like that idea, Erica. Of not mentioning that you are a nurse in public situations. You’re right.. people will always start to ask us questions! Thanks for the tip.

  3. maureenpowers

    Love this topic, it issomething that took me a while to learn, recently I said no to our annual family gathering. My husband and I have been talking about it andhave made Thursday our day together.

    • Elizabeth

      WOO HOO!! I know how hard that can be, Maureen. From personal experience. Yet you will find the day to be much more enjoyable when you surround yourself with loving, supportive energy. Sometimes that just doesn’t always come from family. Glad to hear that practicing the art of saying ‘no’ is starting to pay off for you!


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