People pleaser? How to say no with clarity and confidence

Apr 25, 2019

Recently, a client shared how they were struggling to complete a project. The reason?

Diving deeper, we discovered the work didn’t energise or interest them. My client had agreed to collaborate on the project as a favour to the other person. But it wasn’t work they wanted to do.

No wonder it was a challenge to stay motivated!

This is the perfect example of what happens when you fail to set boundaries or say NO. Instead, you say yes out of obligation. Because you feel you owe others something. And you become frustrated, apathetic or resentful as a result.

For years, I experienced this in my own career. I pride myself on providing a high-level of service to my clients. But this meant I was often putting the needs of others ahead of my own priorities and schedule.

Working this way was unsustainable. And I learnt the importance of setting boundaries and respecting my own time too.

Struggling to say NO?

Read on to learn how to say no with clarity and confidence. You’ll discover a simple 5-part framework to help you make the right decisions and set boundaries.


People pleasing is a form of self-sabotage. It stems from a deep need to feel liked, appreciated or validated. A desire to be needed. Or the belief that putting your own needs before others is selfish.

People pleasers make decisions because they believe they ‘have’ to or ‘should’ do something for someone, say yes or help. Not because they ‘want’ to.

In fact, any time you hear the internal dialogue ‘should’, ‘must’, ‘have to’ or ‘can’t’, it’s a sign self-sabotage is present. It recites an old limiting belief that leaves you feeling powerless, with no choice. And so, you struggle to say no and agree to do something to keep others happy.


Spending time doing things you don’t really want to do is a huge time and energy drain. You begin to loathe the project or commitment you signed up for. You struggle to complete it and feel guilty when you can’t.

You’re resentful that you’re being taken for granted. And frustrated you could be spending your time on something else.



Do you immediately say YES to any request for your time because you feel pressured, want to help or please someone?

If so, you need to start by giving yourself space. Reflect on the opportunity. Take the time to consider if you’re interested. You want to avoid accepting and regretting it later. So, how do you do this?

Automatically say – Let me get back to you. Explain you need time to consider it. Tell the person you’ll get back to them with your response and give them a specific time. Wait at least 24 hours before replying to emails. Then you can say no from a calm, considered place.


Saying yes always has an equal and opposite effect. For everything you say yes to, you’re choosing to say no to something else.

If you say yes to collaborating on a work project but your heart’s not really in it, you’re saying no to the work you really want to focus on. By accepting an invitation you’re secretly dreading, your foregoing other interests or time spent with family.

Remember – you have the power to choose how you spend your time. Deciding what you say yes or no to is within your complete control.


You’ve received a request, offer or invitation and have given yourself some time to reflect. So how do you decide whether or not to take it on?

To help you get clear, start by considering the pros and cons of accepting or rejecting the offer. Ask yourself – by saying yes to this opportunity, what will I be saying no to? Or, what will I be giving up if I decline?

What are the positive and negative aspects of each decision? And what will the impact be on my time, energy and life?

This step is about respecting your own time and energy. It will help you avoid saying yes to something you feel you have to do or should do. Instead of what you really want to do.


Next, take the time to reflect on what’s important to you. Consider if the opportunity is aligned to your values, goals and what you want.

Ask yourself – how will I be honouring or not honouring my values by making this decision?

As an example, imagine I valued creativity and was invited to take on a project that was dull, process-driven and restricted my creative flow. This work wouldn’t be aligned to my values, what I enjoy and what’s important to me. I’d decide to say no. Because it’s not the right opportunity for me.

Your values confirm what’s important to you and are a helpful guide in decision-making. Check out this post for more information on how to clarify your values. Once you’ve completed this step, you’ll have decided whether to say yes or no.


Recently, I’ve been juggling a number of commitments. With a growing business, deadlines on my post-graduate papers, a wedding to plan and a seriously ill parent, I’ve got a lot on my plate.

As a result, I’ve had to completely scale back my schedule. I cancelled a voluntary project I’d committed to months ago and declined a number of work and social invitations.

Setting boundaries and protecting my time have become essential. And this means I’ve had to say NO. Including to existing commitments.

Existing commitments

When it comes to saying no, firstly start by taking the time to review your current schedule. Look at the projects, appointments and events you’ve already said yes to. Is there anything you want to say NO to now?

If so, here’s how to communicate it:

Thank the person for the opportunity and confirm you were keen to be involved. Explain your circumstances have changed, meaning you’re no longer able to honour your commitment or give the project the attention it deserves right now. Clarify your decision, apologise for the inconvenience and offer to answer any questions. Ask them to reach out if there’s another way you can support them.

Future opportunities

Secondly, commit to saying NO to any future opportunities you’re not interested in taking on. Follow the process outlined above – allow yourself space, reflect on it and decide how you want to proceed.

Unsure how to say no? Here’s a simple script you can follow:

Thank you for asking, but this is not something I can commit to/ am interested in/ want to take on right now (insert your preferred wording).

Finally, don’t feel guilty about saying no. Remember, you’re choosing to respect your time, energy and honour what’s important to you.

This framework has helped me to create boundaries in my own career, business and life. And it’s taught my clients how to confidently say no. I hope it assists you too.

Need help saying no or figuring out what you want in your career?

Click HERE to book a free 30 minute consult and find out how coaching with me can help you!

Stacey Back is a Career Strategist, Leadership Coach + Founder of Profile Careers. She helps high-achievers at a career crossroads find the work that lights them up, increase their income, impact and create a career + life on their terms. Stacey works virtually with individuals and organisations based across the globe.