How to stop being a people-pleaser at work

The desire to be liked begins early, dating back to when you may have worried that your parents favored your sibling over you, or that your playground best friend would find another pal to swing with. As we wade our way through primary school and university to trek into the workplaces, ready to rise to the top and build our professional reputation, it remains tempting to be a “yes” person.

But as career experts explain, there’s a difference between being up for any challenge with a positive, enduring attitude, and bending over backwards for your manager, colleagues and employees.

“People-pleasers agree with everyone, even if that means more work or a personal inconvenience. People-pleasers always accept that project that no one wants to complete. They stay late when others want to leave early. They may be seen by others as an ‘easy’ person to get to do a boring or annoying task,” industrial-organizational psychology practitioner and workplace expert Amy Cooper Hakim, Ph.D. says.

Though having a harmonious working environment is the top of everyone’s wish list for their dream job, it’s essential to also prioritize your own needs, opinions and skillsets to ensure you’re fulfilled and appreciated for your talents. Here, experts share their best advice for cutting out that people-pleasing nonsense and, in doing so, gaining the respect — and admiration — you deserve:

Know and set your boundaries

No matter how well the various key players share strokes of genius when working the current task at hand, it’s impossible to always have a mind-meld. Disruptions, disagreements and differing points of view are all part of the experience of being on a team. Instead of constantly fretting about your brewing animosity, Hakim says to truly take time to determine what your boundaries are — and stick to them.

“While it is great to strive for pleasant workplace relationships, it is vital to set boundaries so that you are not always pushed to agree to tasks and ideas that you do not want to do or do not agree with,” she explains. “Determine what you are truly comfortable saying yes to and what makes you feel uncomfortable.”

One way to discover your personal parameters is to attach a feeling to your tasks at work. Hakim gives the example of this rubric: ‘I am comfortable doing reports, but if someone asks me to step into a call I’m not prepared for, it makes me feel angry or upset or annoyed.’

“Remind yourself of what you are comfortable and uncomfortable doing before agreeing to a request from a colleague or boss,” she advises.

Prioritize your tasks

Because people-pleasers often take on far more than their workload since lazy coworkers know they can depend on you to step in during a time crunch, you might find yourself working longer hours and getting behind on your own responsibilities. That’s why personal development coach and author Meiyoko Taylor says to asses your daily actions at work and omit distractions that take away from your deliverables.

“Make sure you prioritize the things you need to do and recognize when you are falling into people pleasing mode,” he says. “If you are focusing too much time on catering to others in the office and you are not being productive with your own assignments, it’s time to make some changes.”

Practice saying ‘no’

Even if your mind is begging you to negate an ask, the part of you that aims to go above and beyond usually wins the debate. Hakim explains for people pleasers, turning down a request can feel more difficult than doing the unpleasant project itself.

“Get yourself out of the rut by practicing one-liners at home. Be direct and firm, yet kind. Make eye contact in the mirror as you say, ‘I wish I could help, but I am slammed with other deadlines today,’” she suggests.

The more often you run-through this script out loud, the more likely you will be to put it into action the next time a colleague tries to offload on you.

Create a mantra

Practice makes perfect — and it creates habits. Consider the first sentiment a yoga teacher calmly suggests at the start of class: set an intention for your flow. Also referred to as mantras, these strings of words are meant to keep you grounded and focused, while giving a purpose to your workout.

In the case of people-pleasing tendencies, Hakim says a confidence-boosting phrase can help you stick your ground when you’re tempted to cave (at 7 p.m., on a Friday, nonetheless).

“Even if you know that you can’t please everyone, you may still feel incredibly guilty when you say ‘no’. So, give yourself a mantra to say at the start of the day and after you successfully say ‘no,’” she suggests. These could range from ‘I can’t fix everyone’s everything’ to ‘I can be helpful without being a pushover’ and other phrases.