The truth about people pleasing and how to break free

A notepad resting on a desk with a pen nearby. The notepad has handwritten text that reads 'It's okay to say no'.

When I meet up with other successful entrepreneurs, it always reminds me that a lot of us face the same challenges.

We are not alone!

A topic that came up the other day was people pleasing. It really struck a chord with everyone in the room, so I’m guessing that it probably will with you too.


Understanding people pleasing 


People pleasing isn’t just about wanting others to be happy, although that’s often a huge part of it.

It’s also about deeply ingrained behaviour that stems from society expecting women to always say yes, to be agreeable, to be polite and biddable. It’s certainly what I was taught as a child.

These patterns of behaviour can lead us into a cycle of over-commitment, and it can mean that we often don’t prioritise our own ambitions and business goals.

We need to value our work and our time

We have a tendency to under-charge for our services; not valuing our work as highly as we should.

These behaviours can particularly impact women entrepreneurs, though I am sure this topic is also resonating with men who are reading this article.

It’s easy to say yes to projects that don’t align with our goals.

Someone might ask to pick your brains, but our time is precious and we literally can’t afford to give it away for free.

If you have primary school aged children, you’ll know how many requests you get for your time… Can you come in and read with the children? Can you help on this school trip? Can you run a stall at the summer fayre? Can you come to the PTA meeting?

Although I’m sure all parents and caregivers are welcome, the invites generally seem to be directed towards mums.

It’s funny how I was invited by the other mums to be a school rep and to be the school clerk, but my husband wasn’t!

When you are asked to take part in these events and to sign up to these roles, don’t feel like you’re not ‘doing your bit as a proper mum’ if you don’t say yes to everything.

It’s really hard to balance your time – when you’re building a successful business, restricted by term time school hours, every hour makes a huge difference. As much as I would love to go into the school and read with the children every week, I just can’t give up that valuable time and still achieve my business goals.

Can I pick your brains?

We need to be comfortable saying no to people who ask for our advice for free.

I used to really struggle with this but I don’t anymore, as I am giving lots of free advice through my podcast, my blog, my workshops, my free 5 day challenge and all my other content.

So, all my other hours need to go to my paying clients.

Negotiating better rates

Being nervous of charging higher rates often comes from people pleasing – wanting to create something that will suit everyone’s needs.

It’s easy to forget how massively that undercharging affects your bottom line.

It also takes a huge toll on your work life balance. All the women I talk to, who are successful coaches, are all seeking more time and space in their lives to relax and find some peace. That’s what a lot of us are ultimately seeking.

This year, one of the goals I’ve pinned up on my wall says, “If I’m saying yes to this, what am I saying no to?”

It’s an effective reminder that something I’m saying yes to may be taking me away from impacting more people through my business success, and taking me away from my time with my family.

Juggling responsibilities

I’ve also noticed that many women I work with are carrying the extra responsibility of caring for elderly relatives, not just their own but often their partner’s as well.

It all takes its toll, and can be very time consuming.

When you run your own business and you’re managing your own time, all these other responsibilities in our lives can take up a lot of time that we could be spending on our businesses. 

This doesn’t happen to people who are employed and working set hours. Their boundaries are more respected – it’s clearer to see when they’re working and when they’re not.

Asserting your boundaries

When we’re running our own businesses we have to try harder to carve out time to do what we want and need to do.

When we are asked to take something on, ask yourself, “Is this my responsibility? Is this something I want to do?” And, if you do say yes, are you going to be happy with the consequences?


Strategies to overcome people pleasing


Remember to be gentle with yourself when you’re trying to push back on people pleasing – we are trying to overwrite generations of ingrained cultural behaviour.

Don’t beat yourself up when you’re thinking, “Oh why did I say yes again?!” We need to realise it’s not our fault. We all have to work on this together, as a society.

1. Self-reflection

Really go deep into why you feel the need to please. Is it a fear of rejection? Is it something projected on you? Is it really true? We sometimes think that people will think terrible things about us if we say no, but that is probably not the case. 

2. Set clear boundaries

Define what you are willing to accept in your business and personal relationships, and what you are not willing to accept. 

If we tell ourselves in advance what is, and isn’t, acceptable to us, it makes it so much easier when we face those moments, like saying no to a ‘can I pick your brains?’ request.

3. Practice assertiveness

Start by expressing your needs in low stake situations, and gradually build up your confidence. Sharing strategies can be really helpful. For example, one woman I was with in a recent mastermind shared the email wording that she uses when she has to say no to a friend’s invite to meet up for coffee, because she’s busy working on her business.

It’s totally understandable and acceptable to say no, and hearing how someone else positions their ‘no’ gives you the confidence to do the same.

4. Seek support

Surround yourself with a network of women who uplift you, and who support you and your ambitions. 


It’s empowering!


Shedding the people pleaser label is empowering. 

You’re taking control of your business and your life. Each small step you take away from people pleasing is taking you one step closer to business success. 

And, at the same time, you’re also modelling positive behaviour to your children so that we, as a society, can break this generational cycle of people pleasing.

Your time, your needs and your expertise are all incredibly valuable.

Not being a people pleaser doesn’t make you less kind or less generous. 

It just means that you are choosing to respect your own needs, and your business’s needs, with the same dedication that you’ve always given to others.




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Hello and welcome! I’m Joanna Lott, and I’m passionate about empowering qualified coaches like you to build brilliant businesses.