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  • Writer's pictureAshley Spencer

The people pleasers guide to saying no, especially for small business owners

Updated: Mar 28

Hi, and welcome to People Pleasers Anonymous; I’m Ashley and I’m a recovering people pleaser.

Seriously, for as long as I can remember I’ve been a ‘yes person’, and if you are too, you’ll recognise yourself in my people pleasing habits, such as, agreeing to go places you don’t want to go (and regretting it), to doing things you don’t have time for (and resenting the other person for it), to watching things you’re not in the mood for (and hating it), to being walked all over by client because you’re scared of upsetting them (and resenting yourself for it)!

For a long time, the word No wasn’t in my vocabulary, and if there was ever a time I would refuse something, it was accompanied by an excuse or a white lie, and always an apology.

I can confidently and unashamedly admit that I haven’t made a complete recovery, and maybe I never will. But life isn’t about being perfect; it’s about growth.

Which begs the question…

Why do we struggle to say No?

We believe that saying No is rude

Our beliefs shape our thoughts, our thoughts determine our feelings, and our feelings influence our actions. If you believe that saying No is rude, or suggests that you’re unreliable or that you don’t care, or that it makes you look like a b*tch; naturally you’re going to want to avoid being judged and labelled as any of those things and therefore will avoid saying No.

We want to be liked and accepted

Belonging is a fundamental component of evolution, and to belong to a group or community requires us to be liked and accepted by them. How you should act in order to be liked and accepted is again based on your beliefs. Acting the part of an easy-going, compliant person who makes everybody else’s life easier is a natural shield for rejection, so a part that many of us default to playing.

Low self-esteem

Defined most simply by Webster’s Dictionary as “satisfaction with oneself”, low self-esteem is often linked to people pleasing behaviours because those with low self-esteem often don’t feel worthy of their own desires so are more likely to put the needs and desires of others before their own.

We’ve lost our power in certain relationships

Guilty! Whether it’s a personal or professional relationship, people pleasing is a blinding signal that you’re giving away your power. There are countless reasons for this dynamic, including feeling inferior to the other person, emotional manipulation, fear of rejection, feeling like we have no other choice, and the reasons already mentioned.

You’ve made it this far as a people please, so why change things now?

You should say No more because…

Saying No creates more time and space in YOUR life for YOU

If you’re a people pleaser, you probably have a schedule full of things you don’t want or need to do, and those things are taking up space that could be filled with things that make YOU happy.

Saying No helps to build your confidence and self-esteem

Despite what some people believe, confidence is not a personality trait, it’s a skill which is built through taking action. Every No is a vote for putting yourself first and a signal to yourself that you are worthy of your desires. This boost in self-esteem will encourage you to take more action elsewhere in your life and therefore build more confidence.

Saying No sets a good example for others

We are a society of influence, therefore, if more people said no, more people would say no! Saying No is something we need to normalise for people, especially young women, and putting yourself first sets a good example to the women in the world, especially children. If you can take the lead in saying No more, you can help to drive positive change in personal and professional settings for current and future generations.

Saying No helps to improve your relationships

How many times have you reluctantly agreed to do something for someone, only to resent them later on? Me too! Saying Yes when you mean No hurts relationships, especially if the other party is none the wiser of your people pleasing tendencies. Taking ownership and responsibility of your time and energy will not only protect you from people who try to take advantage, but will also help you have more authentic relationships.

Saying No is good for your health

You might joke about your disease to please, but according to physician, author and renowned addiction expert, Gabor Maté, there is such a thing as being too nice. People who are “too nice”, he says, never put themselves first, lack boundaries, and always cater to other people’s needs, often leading to them being underappreciated, overworked and stressed, which puts them at a higher risk of stress related illnesses.

How to say No without saying No

Ok, as a recovering people pleaser, I know that learning how to say No is a lot different from actually saying No to a real life person, so I’ve written some scripts to help you politely yet strongly decline invitations and requests in life and work…

How to decline social invitations:

“Thank you so much for inviting me but I have plans that evening. I hope you have a great time though.”

“That sounds fun but I feel like I need to take a bit of time and space for myself this weekend so I’ll give it a miss. I’d love to plan something next month though, if you do?”

“This weekend isn’t a good time for me, but if you do it again in the future, let me know.”

“I’m trying to cut back on going out so count me out, but have an amazing time.”

“It’s not really my scene, but I have some other suggestions of things we can do together.”

How to decline client or customer requests:

“What you’re requesting is not within the scope of our agreed work. Would you like me to send you a quote for the additional work?”

“What you’re requesting is not within my expertise so I would recommend you look for a different person to help you with this.”

“The timescales were agreed when we contracted for this project based on my schedule, therefore I will not be able to deliver the work any faster.”

“The deadline for edits has now passed. Any edits required from now will be at an additional cost.”

“As you are in breach of the cancellation period, there will be a charge to change your appointment.”

How to decline requests for personal favours:

“I’d love to help you but I have a lot going on at the moment and I don’t have space for this.”

“Yes, I do have a day off on [Tuesday], but I’ve been working solidly and need to take a day for myself, so I won’t be able to help you.”

“I’m always here for you but I’m busy that day so I can’t help you.”

How to decline work/ meeting requests:

“I received your meeting invitation, but I have a lot to get done that day. Is it something we can discuss over email?”

“I’ll be happy to help you with Project X, but if I do, I’ll need a couple of extra days to finish Project Y.”

“That sounds really interesting, but I won’t be able to meet that tight deadline.”

How decline date requests:

“I’m flattered but I’m not interested in exploring anything romantic at the moment.”

“Thank you for asking but I’m not interested in dating at the moment.”

“Thank you for asking but I don’t really see our relationship as a romantic one so I think it’s best we stay friends.”

“I don’t date clients so I will have to decline, but thank you for asking.”

How to bide time if you need to think on it:

“Thank you for the invite. Leave it with me and I’ll get back to you.”

“That sounds fun. Let me check my diary and get back to you.”

“That sounds interesting. Leave it with me and I’ll get back to you.”

“I don’t know what I’m doing that day but leave it with me and I’ll let you know if I can make it.”

“Can you give me some more information so I can decide whether it’s something I can participate in?”

The golden rules of saying No.

  1. Do not over explain - you’re not obliged to do most of the things you’re asked to, so the person doesn’t need to know why your neighbour’s aunty’s dog’s cousin is the reason you have to say No.

  2. Don’t apologise - apologising is essentially admitting that you’re doing something wrong by saying No, and you are not! Don’t be sorry about prioritising yourself.

  3. Don’t feel pressured to answer immediately then cancel later - despite how it feels in the moment, saying Yes and cancelling later on is not better for anyone involved. If you don’t know the answer, take some time to think about it.

  4. Don’t lie - A little white lie probably won’t hurt, but don’t get into the habit of lying your way through avoiding the truth. Be authentic and real.

  5. Be patient with yourself - for some people, people pleasing has become a chronic habit that won’t disappear after reading this blog and saying No once. Like any habit, repetition and consistency is key. Allow yourself time to get comfortable with saying No.

About the writer

Ashley is a High Performance Coach & Mentor based in Liverpool, UK. Ashley supports female professionals with their performance, personal development and wellbeing through holistic science-backed methods. She has a background event management and a qualified health and fitness coach. After experiencing burnout, anxiety and panic attacks in her corporate role and as a business owner, she is on a mission to end burnout globally by supporting individuals and teams to create a healthier work/ life balance and improve workplace wellness. She recently certified as an NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming) Practitioner and is currently training to be a Strategic Life Coach so she can further support people in life and work.

You can find out more about Ashley and what she does at, and you can reach her at or on Instagram at @_ashleyelizabethco.

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