Are you a people pleaser?  I know I am.

I grew up in a family environment where being positive, harmonious and being appreciated by others was of the highest order. 

And although they have stood me in good stead throughout my life, I didn’t realize until much later how much these values and beliefs put pressure on me in business and personal relationships.

What if the other person didn’t like me?  Did it mean I’d failed?  And what if I couldn’t guarantee a sustained harmonious relationship with partners, colleagues or friends?  Did that mean I wasn’t a good enough person?

These concerns about being agreeable to others often prevented me from saying what I really felt or thought in situations where clear communication was required. It felt like a Sword of Damocles hanging over my head.

Being a people-pleaser frequently means being afraid of conflict or damaging relationships. But that fear is often unfounded and comes at the cost of not expressing ourselves with confidence, not asserting our needs, not defining our boundaries, and putting our dreams aside for the sake of others’. 

The consequences?  Dimming one’s inner voice and dignity, and wasting the chance to make a difference.

Over the years, I’ve developed some strategies for myself and clients with a similar affliction, especially when dealing with demanding or overbearing colleagues/bosses/clients. 

Here are a couple I’d like to share. Next time you feel the reflex coming on of saying “Oh, I’ll take care of it!”, or “Don’t worry, it’s ok.”, or remaining silent, even though you disagree or are upset, ask yourself: 

  1. What do I lose if I say no?
  2. Could I dare not to care? 
  3. What do I lose if I don’t speak my truth? 
  4. What’s the worst thing that could happen?

Then, consider the following options. (Caveat: always know your audience!)

  1. Ask a follow-up question: “How urgent is this?”; “Could someone else do it?”; 
  2. Express how you feel: “When you speak this way, it’s upsetting/confusing to me.”
  3. Respectfully disagree: “I respectfully disagree, let me explain why.”

People-pleasing is not an effective way to be. If you want to be a confident and assertive communicator in your workplace, family and community, try speaking up for yourself, your needs and ideas, one bit at a time. 

The result will be vindicating.  

And as you let your inner voice speak your truth, you give others license to do the same.


Sylvia Larrass is an executive communication and leadership coach in Ottawa.

She can be reached at