Do you always say “yes” to requests and want to help everyone? Then you probably already know that you’re a so-called “pleaser”. Being kind and helping others is not a bad thing. But like being a perfectionist, it can harm both your career, health and relationships if you take it too far. 

If you’re a pleaser, the first thing you need to do is to identify your boundaries. To do this, you need to get to know yourself really well. Only then can you start learning to say “no” without feeling guilty. Setting limits doesn’t have to be done aggressively, and you can still be assertive and kind.  

Here are 9 tips to get you started:  

1. You can’t please everyone 

You have most likely heard the saying that you can’t please everyone. Saying “yes” often comes from a place of fear. You try to please everyone to avoid conflict, be liked, or not be seen as selfish. Whatever your reasons, no one wins if you always agree to do something. Especially not you. 

When you say “yes” to everything, it can lower your productivity, which can affect your career. It can also impact your family by making you feel more stressed. And it can jeopardise your health and career negatively in the long run.

So remember that saying “no” is absolutely OK. It is often the kinder and more helpful thing to do than agree to everything.

2. Don’t apologize for saying “no”

We have established that no one wins if you agree to everything and that saying “no” is OK. The next thing that is easy to do is apologize for saying “no” because you feel guilty. If you don’t have time, or it’s not your responsibility to do something, there isn’t anything to apologize for. There are very few times when saying “sorry” is appropriate when you decline a request to do something.   

This doesn’t mean that you should be rude or unpleasant. Instead, think of ways to be kind and gentle when you say “no” without apologizing. Rather, you can say something like this: 

 “Thank you for thinking of me for this project. I wish I were in a position to help you, but I don’t have the time for it right now.” 

3. Pause and consider the context

When someone asks you to do something, pause before saying “yes” or “no”. Think about what is being requested and how it will affect you and your surroundings. Questions you can ask yourself are:

  • Would this be a long-term or short-term commitment?
  • Will this task benefit me, my family or the company I work for somehow? 
  • Does it help me move towards my own goals?
  • Does it excite me, and would it be fun to do?
  • Is it something someone else could do, or are my specific skills required?
  • Will I regret not doing it, or would it be a relief not to do it?

Only when you have the answers to these questions can you give a considered response.

4. Communicate clearly and simply by being direct

Once you’ve made your decision of whether to agree to a request or not, communicate it clearly and simply. The easiest way to do this is to be direct and explain the reasons from your own perspective.  

If you say “no”, make it clear that it’s not about the person making the request; it’s about you. In your rejection, explain your limits and how you feel if you let someone cross your boundaries. If your excuse is unclear, you risk getting the request again.

For example:   

“No, I am not able to help you at the moment. I already have deadlines that are important to me, and I won’t be able to dedicate the time your task deserves.” 

If you say “yes”, explain your specific reasons to establish that you’re not doing it to please anyone. For example, you can say: 

“I would love to help you! This will be a great challenge for me, and the team will definitely learn a lot from working on such a project.”

Giving a reason sets your boundaries for the future. 

5. Offer an alternative or compromise

Saying “no” doesn’t have to create conflicts or be a major struggle. Sometimes, you have to compromise or offer an alternative way of doing things. Be pragmatic, respectful and understanding towards others. 

If you’re the only one that can do the task, you can say that you will be happy to supervise and guide someone else. Or show someone else how to do it for next time. For example, you can say: 

“This task is no longer my responsibility. I would prefer to explain it to a colleague so that they can do it next time.” 

You can also agree on a time limit for the task or a compromise on quality. For example:

“I am happy to do the report, but it won’t be thorough in the amount of time you’ve given me. If you want a good report, I recommend extending the deadline by two weeks or giving it to another team member.”

Find a way that will work for both sides.  

6. Start saying “no” to small requests

If you’re not used to saying “no”, starting to say it can feel daunting and overwhelming. This can put you off even starting. So start small. Choose an area where you know you find it difficult to decline requests, even if you want to. Then select a specific small and inconsequential request to say “no” to. From that, you can build your no-saying muscle and begin to decline more difficult asks.    

7. Give your surroundings time to adjust to the new, assertive you

If you’ve always said “yes” to everyone, it might surprise your surroundings when you start saying “no”. Give your surroundings a chance to get used to you setting your limits.  

8. Show yourself compassion

Learning something new takes practice and means you’ll fail sometimes. Be kind to yourself and learn from the situation. Dig deep, and find out why you let someone cross your boundaries. Then try again.

Sometimes, the environment you’re in forces you to cross your boundaries. If it keeps happening regularly, it will be necessary to change your surroundings. Just be aware of this and reset your limits!

9. You need to practice and be consistent

Saying “no” requires practice. You won’t get comfortable with it straight away because you’re not used to it. You also need to do it consistently. The more you practice saying “no” and protecting your boundaries, the easier it will become.

To make sure you feel prepared to say “no”, create a list of responses to tasks that you usually say “yes” to. Write down your answers and have them ready for when you need them. 

Practising these 9 steps will help you to protect your boundaries. As a result, you will start feeling less guilty about saying “no”. It is, after all, to everyone’s benefit. 

Do you want accountability and help to learn how to say “no”?

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written by Marie Dewulf – Photo by Mimi Thian on Unsplash