I hated saying no to people.
I saw disappointing others as a personal failure.
So I would say yes. To everything. All the time.
To stuff I didn’t like. To stuff I didn’t have time for. To stuff I disagreed with.
And this perpetuated more asking. If people needed stuff done they’d ask me because they knew I’d say yes and deliver.
But it caught up with me. I was working crazy hours to deliver all my own stuff plus everything else I took on. I had nothing left in the tank when I got home at night. I was having to compromise my standards to get stuff done (not great for a perfectionist just quietly!).
And I have to be honest. My saying yes also enabled me to work on projects and do things that were super interesting and challenging. But that was a happy side-effect of my people pleasing behaviour.
There were 2 major catalysts for my recognition that my behaviours were hindering and not helping me. The first was acting in a HR Manager role which meant I had to have some really hard conversations and make decisions on behalf of my team. The second was completing my workplace coaching qualification where I was forced to reflect on my own behaviours and the impact on myself and others.
Both of these experiences helped me to see that:
The sky won’t (generally) fall in if I say no to things
Saying yes to opportunities took those opportunities away from others
I can say no with being considered bitchy or cold or unhelpful
My own boundaries are really important and I am the gate keeper to them.
This led to some important reframes that I’d like to share in the hope they connect with my fellow people pleasers out there.
Reframe 1: By saying no, I’m providing an opportunity for someone else to learn and grow.
Yep it is probably easier and faster to do it yourself. And yes, it will be done ‘your’ way. But you’ll have to keep doing it forever and ever with that mentality!
Saying no when someone asks you to do something for them can empower them to have a go at something new or challenge them to tackle something they’ve been avoiding (and you’ve been enabling).
How to ‘nicely’ say no:
I don’t have capacity to take it from you, but I can absolutely guide you through it!
What are your major barriers here? Perhaps I can remove some of those for you instead?
I feel I can add more value to this if you have a go at doing it and I can review and provide feedback.
Reframe 2: Being clear is being kind, not bitchy.
So I have to thank Brene Brown (and my coach Nicki) for this one! People pleasers dither around and instead of saying a clear ‘no’ tend to mumble an assortment of ‘ifs, buts and maybes’. This is doing a disservice to everyone! Saying no clearly allows the other person to immediately do and seek the support they need elsewhere.
How to ‘nicely’ say no:
I’m not in a position to help I’m afraid. Who else could help you out?
I don’t have time available to take that on, but I have some resources I can share that would help?
That’s not something I can (or want to) commit to. Can I connect you with someone else?
Reframe 3: My time is valuable and it’s ok to triage requests that come my way.
For people in service-based roles, in can feel like being always available is the way to provide good client service (my HR folk, I'm talking to you especially!), however it’s quite the opposite. Responding to other people’s ‘urgent’ queries in the moment often leads to poorer quality advice being given. It can also disrupt your flow and take you away from tasks that need your attention.
How to ‘nicely’ say no:
I’d love to give you my full attention, but I can’t offer that now. Can we book a time for tomorrow?
I’m actually working on something else at the moment. Can you email me your query and I’ll connect with you when I’m done?
I know you’re keen for a quick resolution, but that sounds tricky and I’d like to do some research so I can give you a fulsome response.
Reframe 4: My wellbeing is worth protecting; I need to take care of me first.
I notoriously would run myself ragged doing things for others while putting my own needs at the bottom of the list. It made me resentful, but I only had myself to blame. I realised that having healthy barriers means I’m actually more equipped to help and I can enjoy the positive vibes from being of service to others.
How to ‘nicely’ say no:
I’m actually feeling a bit flat and need some recharge time. Can we do that another time?
I need to spend some time with my pet/family/self this weekend. Would Person A or Person B be keen?
I’d love to catch up, but my energy is low at the moment. I’ll reach out when I’m feeling brighter.
Of course there are times we all have to take things onboard that we don’t want to or don’t really have capacity for, especially in a work context. But they key thing is really about making a conscious choice rather than just saying yes out of old people pleasing habits.
I listened to a great podcast about people pleasing recently and the presenter shares an example (around 19 mins in) of driving a family member to the airport when you have other commitments. Instead of adopting the people pleasing approach and lying and saying ‘yes I’m happy to do that’ she suggests instead being clear that ‘it’s not ideal, but I’m willing to do it for you’. It’s a subtle but important difference.
The awareness also brings the ability to manage yourself and your commitments better. Don’t be a pack mule and just load a whole bunch of responsibilities on your back. You will collapse under the weight eventually. Instead if something does come up you can’t avoid, take a look at all the other packs you’ve got strapped on and figure out what you can jettison.
It probably feels like nothing because you’ve already make a commitment and can’t back out right? But that’s the one-eyed, one-horned giant purple people pleaser talking!
What are you dreading?
What makes you tired thinking about it?
What are you doing out of obligation rather than love?
What have you taken on that can be done by others?
What can wait until next week? Next month?
That's the stuff to shift. The stuff to say no to. Go back to reframe 2 about being clear with others (the earlier the better) and explain clearly why you can no longer commit.
‘I know I promised to help with the fete next week, but a huge project has landed on my desk at work and I can’t commit the time now. I’m sorry, I know it’s not ideal, but I wanted to let you know asap so you have time to find another volunteer.’
Would I be annoyed as the receiver of this message? Sure, for about a minute. Then I’d appreciate the fact I know a week out instead of a day out and have time to make a plan B and get on with it.
Honestly I still find saying no hard. I still over commit myself. But I’m far more conscious when I do it and reflecting on why I’m doing it which is a positive step. If you listen to the podcast I mentioned, the presenter explains that she didn’t start her journey by suddenly saying no to people. She started to tell herself the truth; acknowledging when she was doing something she didn’t want to, when she was lying to herself or others. She says eventually the lying to herself and others became so intolerable to her that she started being more honest and speaking up.
So, my fellow people pleasers, my challenge for you in the next week is to notice what comes up for you when someone asks you for something. What are you thinking and feeling? What’s driving your decision? What lies are you telling yourself? What lies are you telling others? No action required! Just notice.