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How to say no, instead of people-pleasing


By Niamh Ennis
17th Jul 2021

Read time: 5 minutes

How to say no, instead of people-pleasing

Can we make this the summer we learn how to say no? Here's how to do it and why you should prioritise what you want.

Remember back when, we totally believed that by being all organised, having backup plans meant we were totally in control of what could happen and how we would react. It was the same time we were obsessed with having it all and living at a frenetic pace. It was just how it was done and we were there for it.

If we’ve learned anything, these past 18 months, it’s that in fact, we have zero control over what happens in our lives. In what now seems like a blink of an eye the world stopped for us on March 12, 2020. Everything as we knew it changed. We were in that moment, and for quite a few since, powerless.

We were forced to stay at home, to slow down, and connect with nature, to reconnect with ourselves and those we live with. We were forced to go inwards and for the most part, we liked what we saw and we learned how we could fix or tweak what we didn’t. It may not have been an ideal situation but we learned to make the most of it.

Right now however there is a lot of nervousness out there, relating to the pressure of having suddenly to say yes. Yes to all the social invitations, yes to large gatherings and reunions, yes to spending time in the company of people who deplete and drain you, yes to situations you no longer enjoy.

You’ve become so used to not having to choose or make decisions. You’ve adapted, with relative ease, to being totally free to do what you wanted in the comfort of your own home. And now that’s all changing again and you’re feeling uncomfortable about that too.

So how can you learn to say no?

It’s far harder to break a habit than it is to create one. So use the natural break that you were gifted this last year, and try not to fall back into repeating your old habits.

Say no to the dinner with your group of friends that you know will spend their time passing remarks and bitching about others. Say no to the family gathering where you know you and your career will be the butt of the jokes. Say no to going out for drinks on a Friday night when what you want is an early night and a fresh head to go hiking on a Saturday. Say no even though you know you will be challenged, you’ll probably be talked about and you will be criticised for declining.

Why? Because saying yes is not listening to what you want, it’s not honouring your needs. Saying yes is pleasing others because you’re scared not to. You are afraid of being judged. You’re terrified of being abandoned so you say yes when you want to say no. Well, that was then and this is now. This is the summer when you are learning how to say no and it will feel so good!

It’s not just us mere mortals that seem to be pushing back. Look at Britney Spears and the ongoing coverage of her opposition of her decade-long conservatorship, Meghan and Harry who are refusing to stay silent over issues they’ve experienced within the Royal family and Naomi Osaka refusing to compete at Wimbledon due to a requirement for her to appear at press conferences. It is no coincidence that this is now happening hot on the heels of the pandemic.

These are just a few, admittedly unusual, examples of high profile people standing up for what they believe, but all around me I’m witnessing people not wanting to go back to being who they were before all this. They know that they won’t have this chance to stand their ground in the same way and are just acting on it.

If you’re feeling a strong need to protect your time, your energy, in a way you never did before, then please don’t think you’re alone. This is not in any way being anti-social but it is you prioritising what you want, how you want to live, who you want to spend your time with, in a way that you have not done before.

Having had the opportunity to slow down you unconsciously began thinking about your life differently. You were in fact re-evaluating everything, which in essence, means you were looking at your values and asking what matters most to you right now. Before, you were too busy, too distracted or just didn’t want to think about it. But you did and now you know the answers and so this next stage is all about maintaining those boundaries in your life. No more people-pleasing, please!

So many of us now understand ourselves and what matters most to us in a way we never did before. That’s what’s fuelling us on and that’s what we must protect. That’s why you need to start saying no.

Whenever I raise the subject of boundaries, inevitably the conversation will move quickly to being asked, “that’s all well and good Niamh but how can I say no when I want to?” This has always been an issue but now more than ever we need to start changing how we react.

SOME SUGGESTIONS TO HELP WITH HOW TO SAY NO…

If someone invites you to something that you don’t want to go to simply say:

“That sounds like a fun event but it’s not something I can do right now.”
“Can I get back to you on that?” (which is always better than saying yes when you mean no!)
“I won’t be able to make it that evening but do have fun and give Sarah my best.”

If a colleague asks you to take over some of their work and you already have enough on your plate:

“I really wish I could, but now is not a good time.”
“It’s just not possible for me this month.

Don’t over-explain or feel the need to insert a long-winded, clearly fabricated story. Less really is more! Develop your habit by beginning with situations that aren’t quite so emotionally taxing – for example, with a colleague before you target your mother! It’s absolutely true that the more you do it, the better you’ll become at saying no! Nothing ever feels easy at the start but repeating it makes it easier.

Niamh Ennis is Ireland’s leading Empowerment and Transformation Coach and Founder of The RESET for Change 3 Month 1:1 Private Coaching Programme and host of The TOUGH LOVE ENERGY™ Podcast. If you want to discover just what kind of a People Pleaser you are, then try Niamh’s quiz or find her on Instagram on @1niamhennis.