How saying ‘no’ works wonders for trust

by Rachel Botsman Influencer and Rethink Newsletter

Are you a people-pleaser?

The next time you mutter the words, “I’m flexible,” or “I’m easy,” pause for a second and think about what you really mean.

I used to say these words all the time. “What time do you want to meet?” “I’m flexible,” or “What do you want to eat for dinner?” “I’m easy.” And so, I ended up eating pizza rather than the soup I really wanted.

Constantly putting other people’s needs before your own is a classic trait of a people-pleaser. 

Have you ever wondered why we have this need to please? Do you think of it as a positive part of your personality, or a negative trait?

Here’s why it could be time to Rethink the way you view people-pleasing:

Where does the need to please come from?

Think about situations where you might describe yourself as a people-pleaser when you:

  • bend to other people’s expectations?
  • take on the burden of other people’s responsibilities?
  • don’t set clear boundaries, or you let others overstep the ones you have set?
  • excessively apologise?

People-pleasing is typically understood as doing these things to be liked, praised, or accepted.

We’re constantly going after the approval of others.

On the one hand, people-pleasing looks positive — like we’re trying to make others happy.

But on the other, it can be self-serving and futile.

Whilst listening to therapist Esther Perel in conversation with Adam Grant I had my big Rethink moment:

The key to understanding people-pleasing is to ask yourself:

“What am I avoiding?”  or “What do I dread?”

The answers will be different for everyone for example:

  • You worry about damaging the relationship.
  • You go to great lengths to avoid conflict at all costs.
  • You just want to keep the peace.
  • You’ve grown up thinking saying “no” is rude or selfish.

Flex your “no” muscle

We don’t have to give up people-pleasing altogether. Of course, it’s not a flaw to help and care about others.

The key is to recognize when the need to please is becoming a weakness. Specifically, when we say “yes” to things, but inside we’re saying “no.” I’ve found it helpful in those situations to think of the “yes” as a lie.

A great technique for building your “no” muscle comes from the brilliant work of Harvard developmental psychologist Robert Kegan: Give up managing others’ impressions of yourself — it is an enormous waste of energy and time.

People-pleasing is a weakness when you do it to try to control what someone else thinks of you.

It’s a strength when it comes from a genuine place of wanting to help others.

Something to try this week:

  • Take some time to think of when you’re most likely to say “yes” when you really mean “no.”
  • It could be when you don’t fully understand a request from a colleague, but you’re afraid to ask for clarification.
  • It could be when someone asks if you’re free for a meeting, but you’d set the time aside for something else important.

By saying “no”, you’re not being rude or selfish.

Instead, you’re having the confidence to set clear boundaries and expectations,

which does wonders for trust.