Choosing When and How to Say Yes: Tips from a Language Professional

This week, I had an opportunity to hear Erin Timberman, Coordinator for Parent and Family Engagement at Irvine Unified School District, discuss how we can choose our "best yes" at the OCDE Interpreters and Translators Conference. A very timely presentation considering a major decisions on my plate: whether to accept a new consulting project or not. 

How much free time do we actually have?

As a freelance interpreter, translator, mentor, trainer, consultant, and active contributor to our profession as well as a mother, wife, daughter, sister, and friend, I often feel overextended and overwhelmed. Much to my surprise, Erin started her presentation by leading all participants through an exercise to help us identify how much "free" time we actually have. Her exercise was so simple I could not believe I had not thought of it before. Simply make a list of how much time you spend each day/week on various activities including sleep and work. With only 168 hours in a week, when you do the math, it is easy to see how many hours a day are slipping through the cracks on social media, Netflix, or on other activities we are not aware of. We also learn how much time we have for ourselves or for other/new commitments. 

One key takeaway for me from this exercise is that we often over or underestimate how much time we actually have for new work or volunteer opportunities. We also may be misusing (or wasting) time on activities that are not aligned with what we value the most. 

What do we value the most?

There are several ways to identify what we find most important. An esteemed mentor, Ludmila Golovine, likes the process in The Values Factor: The Secret to Creating an Inspired and Fulfilling Life by John Demartini, which helps you determine your values by looking at what you fill your space and time with. In Erin's presentation, she simply shared a list of values and asked participants to choose what they felt was important to them. 

Regardless of the process or method you prefer to identify what you value the most, values are key to helping us identify when to say yes or when to say no. The first step is to look at how you are currently using your time and evaluate each activity against your value(s). 

When should we say yes?

Once you understand how much time you have available for new commitments (for me the answer was 10 hours per week) and you understand what you value the most (in my case family and service), making a decision about when to say yes is easy. 

Do I have the time?

If there is an assignment, contract, or project that requires a commitment of 10 hours per week, but you only have 6 hours to spare per week for the next 2 months, you are unable to make the time commitment without sacrificing time that is already dedicated to other activities. 

Does it reflect my value(s)?

Identifying whether a particular assignment, contract, or project aligns with our values can be a little tricky. Some can argue that any worthy activity can be easily aligned to anyone's values by identifying the connections. For example, if you share my values of family and service, you could find that most interpreting assignments or translation projects help you provide for your family. Additionally, the assignment or project will help you further develop your language skills which you can then use to teach your children and help them develop their own languages skills. You could also find that you are serving immigrant communities and helping other families receive vital services or information. If you are a conference interpreter, perhaps you are serving many families in another country by helping leaders learn about programs or techniques that will serve the population of their home country. 

At times, however, the project or assignment may be a little more difficult to connect to your values, or maybe the time required is already committed to another project and you have to conduct a deeper analysis or take more time to consider your options. If this is the case, it may be a good idea to, as I did, consult with friends, colleagues, or family members. I am, like many others are, surrounded by people I greatly admire and can help me identify opportunities that are more closely aligned with my values. 

How to say no?

Something that makes saying "no" so difficult for me is the possibility of loosing a relationship. How do you say "no" to a great opportunity, potential employer, or client without closing the door on future collaboration or opportunities? I must admit, this is a skill I am still trying to develop, but I was gifted a very powerful tool to assist with this: a book titled "The Power of a Positive No" by William Ury. In his book, William Ury shares a formula that allows you to say no to the current opportunity while saying yes to future opportunities. He suggests that we start with an affirmation (i.e. "it is great to hear from you, your company is perfect for that project"), then state your no (i.e. "due to current commitments to other organizations, I am unable to accept new projects"), and end with a proposal (i.e. "my current commitments will end in January, when I hope we can continue this conversation"). 

Ury's Yes!, No, Yes? model is definitely easier said than done, especially when we are hesitant to share our reasoning behind our "no". However, if we have taken the time to understand how much "free" time we have available and what our true value(s) is/are, we are in a better position to have a sincere conversation that leaves the door open to future collaboration. 

How much "free" time do you have? Do you know what your value(s) is/are? What is your strategy for turning down opportunities without closing the door to future collaboration? Share your thoughts in the comments below. 


Ury, William. The Power of a Positive No: How to Say No and Still Get to Yes. Hodder & Stoughton, 2008. Preview available on Amazon*.

Demartini, John F. Values Factor: the Secret to Creating an Inspired and Fulfilling Life. Berkley, 2015. Preview available on Amazon*. 

*All items referenced may be available through other vendors. Purchases made through Amazon affiliated links in this blog may result in earnings for the author.