Just Say No-Tactfully! Avoiding the People-Pleasing Trap

I recently received a heartwarming compliment on my blog from an old friend. I hope I’m not revealing too much but she mentioned she struggles in her management position to make everyone happy. She’s certainly not alone in her feelings. No matter what you do (or don’t do) for a living, you’ve probably experienced this internal conflict at some point in your life. We have difficulty telling people “no” and brace for the backlash when we do. As a consequence, we lose focus on our end goals, we sacrifice our mental well-being, and we fail to address the root causes of issues we may have in our environment. I speak of your environment with the understanding that this could be your office, your home or your civic duties. While I do not pretend to be the subject matter expert, I have some reading suggestions and techniques to aid you in making positive progress towards saying “No” more often.

In the book Influencer: The Power to Change Anything, the authors tackle complex problems such as eradicating the Guinea worm and helping former inmates assimilate into society. Based on scientific research, the authors explain that you can change people’s behavior if you use the correct approach. How does this relate to people-pleasing, you might ask? When we strive to go with the flow to avoid rocking the boat, we often neglect our own needs and positively reinforce undesirable behavior. People can then continue treating you as a pushover and may even manipulate you into acquiescing to their desires over the long run. Not everyone takes advantage of you maliciously, however. Ever heard the old expression “Give a person an inch and they’ll take a mile?” Same concept in play here. How do we assert ourselves and drive our audience into subscribing to our mission? The authors recommend a systematic overhaul of your own behaviors and words.

If you’re dealing with resistance in your colleagues, attempt to determine the source of this opposition. The authors believe that, when tasked with any decision, a person will think of two main questions: “Can I do it?” and “Will it be worth it?” Is a subordinate unable to do what is asked to support your organization’s objectives because he or she lacks the knowledge or capability? Does your facility lack the infrastructure to support the directive? Is the requested change “painful” or “unpleasing?” If you find yourself dealing with people who just aren’t motivated to change, you’ll need to employ different techniques into your approach. Some suggestions from the authors are to make the change a game by keeping score and connecting the task to a person’s sense of self. Understanding your audience is another vital key in setting yourself free from people-pleasing and leads me to my next topic.


KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE! What makes the person tick? What is his or her “Big Why?” Is this person motivated by social recognition, verbal praise, tangible rewards, or internal satisfaction? If someone absolutely despises the spotlight, you wouldn’t want to force the person onto a hypothetical or actual stage and broadcast his or her accomplishments. There are countless tools at your disposal to learn about anyone whether it be your team, children, partner or neighbor. From Myers-Briggs to DISC, you are able to get a better idea of what drives each person’s behavior. At my own company, we’ve been privileged to use the Insights program to learn what forces are in play for our teammates, our managers and even ourselves. This methodology allows us to ascertain the preferred styles of interacting with our colleagues based on their individual personalities and preferences. As a warning, some of these programs are costly so if you’re under budget constraints, take advantage of some of the free personality assessments available on the “interwebs.”

Lastly, I leave you with an excellent article I found that discusses the importance of being a leader rather than a people-pleaser. Succinctly put, there is an achievable balance to keeping your significant other, subordinates and children happy while maintaining your sanity. It simply takes practice and some research. Good luck and thanks for reading!


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