Quitting People Pleasing for Good (and Saying No When You Mean No)

My friend asked the man, as he showed us the way over the hill towards the beach, "do you like living here?"

"Yes", he replied.

We waited for him to elaborate further but he remained silent. Apparently, he was done. And who could blame him? We'd asked a question and he'd given the necessary reply. 

When he disappeared back over the hill to his garden, the three of us laughed about it, noting how it was such a good example of how both 'yes' and 'no' are complete sentences and it's only all the thinking we have around using them that way that causes us problems.

A day earlier, I'd been sitting in the upstairs lounge of our little holiday cottage talking to my coaching friend about exactly this thing. Talking through current examples from our lives, we both recognised that there was more room for improvement for being clearer in our communication. Otherwise said, saying no when we want to say no.

Saying yes when you mean no is a disservice to both you and the other person

My friend and I talked about a relationship example. Let's say you've been on a couple of dates with a guy and you're sure he's not for you. When he asks you out on a third date, you know your answer is no. But knowing how much he likes you and fast forwarding in your mind to how badly you think he'll take it if you refuse, you give a reluctant yes.

The result?

For yourself you've likely created feelings of resentment at having to now spend time going on a date you know you don't want to go on as well as feeling pretty rubbish at once again choosing people pleasing over what is true in your heart. And for him? He's being set up for a greater fall. He's thinking it's going somewhere when you know it's not. He's getting hopeful about the future. 

When we say yes when we mean no, we think we're being nice but in reality we're creating a losing situation for everyone. The guy doesn't deserve to be led on, only to be let down later. And you don't need to spend time doing things your heart's not fully in. 

I've been very much a people pleaser in the past and it lingers on still at times. I want to be nice. I want to be thought of as nice. But when you realise that saying yes when you mean no isn't nice at all, it kind of throws that reasoning out of the window. Whilst it may feel harder in the moment, it's actually nicer and kinder to say what you actually mean.

Slow down before saying yes or no and remember, it's either a ten or it's a zero

Turning things like this into challenges or games works well for me so my personal approach is to just have some conscious fun in this area - to bring more awareness to my interactions and slow right down before saying yes or no to a request and ask myself: If I'm honest, what do I want to say in response to this?

And let's be clear, if something isn't a clear yes, then it's a no. If it's not a ten, it's a zero. So when someone asks you something and you recognise that you're not a full and clear yes, then make sure that your response is a full and clear no. 

Coming from love

As cliché as it may sound, the most important thing we can do when we have to deliver what feels like a difficult yes or no is to make sure beforehand that we're coming from a loving, non-reactive place.

We can never control the way in which the things we say are received. Our words are always filtered through a person's own lens and that's not something we can (or should) take responsibility for. What we can do, however, is make sure that when we speak our truth, it's delivered with love. Our intention is what we can control and that's where we should place our focus. After that, we have to let it go and let others be responsible for themselves.

Saying no when we mean no is an uncomfortable practice for many of us. But it's an important part of growth too. When we say no when we mean no and are clear on our boundaries, we inevitably feel more peaceful, more loving and more compassionate towards the world and the people in it. When we respect ourselves, there's more space to respect others. So just remember that yes and no are both perfect answers, you just have to pick the one you really mean.

Love and courage,