A People Pleaser's Guide To Saying No

Overworked? A People Pleaser’s Guide to Saying No

This post first appeared on Forbes.com

“I have more work than I can possibly do, my team is stretched to the breaking point, and the requests keep coming,” said an executive coaching client in a large tech company, her eyes welling with tears. She was not the only one to whom I gave a tissue this week.

Overwork is widespread in the U.S., and research indicates that it is bad for people’s health and productivity.  An excessive workload can be caused by many different factors—a demanding organizational culture, poor planning, failure to delegate or a lack of adequate staffing. But often times, it is exacerbated by an inability or unwillingness to say, “no.” People pleasers (you know who you are) hate to let down their colleagues and will sacrifice their own well-being to avoid causing disappointment. If they don’t develop their “no” muscle, they are likely to burn out or make themselves sick. Here are some strategies for people pleasers:  

1. Establish and document clear priorities. People pleasers tend to personalize everything and feel a sense of individual responsibility when they decline a request. A written policy or set of priorities helps to de-personalize when you have to say “no.”

2. Clarify your scope and set expectations. If you are frequently getting requests that are not really part of your job description, this may be a sign that people don’t understand your role. Schedule time with your colleagues and stakeholders to clarify roles and responsibilities and set expectations.

3. Say “Not now.” Some requests will go away if you delay, and you don’t actually have to refuse. Respond immediately that you want to help but cannot get to their request just now and ask if they want you to put it in the queue for next week or next month.

4. Escalate when necessary. If you are receiving conflicting requests and it is not clear which takes precedence, you may need to ask your manager what you should prioritize and what you should drop.

5. Make evening and weekend plans. People pleasers are a category of obligers, who generally put themselves last and take care of everyone else’s needs before their own. A great way to cultivate a life outside of work is to make plans with other people—get a workout buddy, schedule a weekly walk or night out. That way, you can use your desire not to disappoint your friends to set boundaries with work colleagues.

6. Cultivate emotional boundaries. People pleasers tend to take responsibility for other people’s feelings and find it hard to tolerate if a colleague is disappointed or angry. Emotional boundaries help you detach from someone else’s feelings. If you feel yourself starting to feel guilty, try compassion (for yourself and the other person) instead.

7. Don’t suffer in silence. If you are overworked but just keep soldiering on without speaking up, others may not be aware and will continue to pile on. Let your boss know what is going on, and be mindful not to complain but instead to propose a solution.