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  • Writer's pictureJani de Kock

No one likes to be told what to do

Updated: Apr 16, 2021

but if you ask nicely or I think you are a good person or I think you are in trouble, I will almost always tell you yes. And then I will break everything in my life to hold to it or


I will drop




This is not healthy.

Took me a long time to realise the person asking the question is not actually hoping to hear me say yes. He is hoping to get the thing done well and on time. An honest no would have been fine. It's not conflict. It's just a fact and it's better for everyone.

So I started the practice of deciding if I am going to accept a responsibility requested of me. Sounds ridiculous writing it down like this but it's true and it has served me well for three reasons:

  • It helps me separate the things that matter to me from the things that matter to other people

  • It shows me my resources as finite

  • It increases the time between the stimulus (the request) and my response (the yes or no) and so doing separates the interaction and the relationship from the doing of the thing

All of which opens the door to a better quality commitment

Pictured below is my desk with all the projects I am currently working on. Each one has a compelling reason why I want to do the work. A reason that is not simply because someone asked me to do it or because I think it is the right thing to do.

Examples can be helpful so here are a few of mine:

For a request to moderate a series of interviews

  • A research topic that intrigues me in a category that will make a corner of the world a better place

  • A rare chance to work in Afrikaans

  • A fun team to work with that I can learn from and where I know that my contribution will be valued and my needs respected

  • This is something that I can do easily

  • What it will take from me:

    • Low-risk work - I am not responsible for the recruitment or any other expenses. If things go wrong it won't be on my watch

    • The only time investment is attending the actual interviews - I can excuse myself from report writing (which is less defined ito time and significantly more draining on my resources)

  • Project Accepted

For a request to analyse 800 focus group transcripts

  • Ok it wasn't 800 but it was close. It was a sensus of a massive mining operation

  • Paid a very good hourly rate for a significant number of hours

  • Working with a team I highly respect, with a different skillset and way of work from me

  • What it will take from me:

    • It will require long diligence in one direction for at least 8 weeks

      • It will use all my time. I won't have any left for anything else

      • If I'm honest - I will get bored. I don't have the stamina and this is not the kind of task I can automate

  • Project Referred to a trusted colleague

For a request to conduct a study in a new African market:

  • An opportunity to test out a new methodology for working remotely in Africa

  • An opportunity to test out a new partnership that I'm excited about

  • A study in an industry that can significantly change peoples lives for the better

  • What it will take from me:

    • It will take a lot - courage, trust, managing many multiple risks and bringing all of myself

  • Project Accepted

These reasons are extremely personal and contextual and you will have to find your own. I hope thinking about commitments in this way will help you say no so that you can say yes to what matters.

This post is a fan letter. If you want to read more about starting with what matters, I recommend you go here.



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