When you are a support professional, one of the hardest things is to be able to say “no” to someone – especially to a client who needs something from you.
We had a really great discussion about this last week in one of our OBM Virtual Retreat days… a few of the gals were sharing how they have such a hard time saying “no” to clients and as a result are finding themselves stressed and overwhelmed by taking on too much at once.
As one person shared “I’m a people pleaser and I just hate to let someone down. How can I stop being a people pleaser?”
Don’t stop! I think being a “people pleaser” is actually a good thing when you are a support professional – be it an OBM, a VA or otherwise. Being driven to “please” our clients by providing good work is a wonderful gift to offer – it is part of what makes you really good at what you do (and client’s can feel that).
However, like anything that is a gift, there is also a dark side to this… and that is when you are SO driven to please others that you do so at the expense of yourself. When the thought of potentially letting someone down is so uncomfortable to you that you would rather just take it all on… leading to overwhelm, frustration and eventual burn-out… this doesn’t serve you or your clients in the long run, and I see it happen a lot.
So how to balance this drive to “please” with your own needs? In my opinion, it’s not simply about saying “no” – that could actually be destructive to your working relationships – it’s about being able to say yes on your terms. Let me explain:
Put yourself in the shoes of your client for a moment – they have hired you to help them out with specific needs. They want to feel like they can depend on you and that you’ll be able to serve those needs.
You are super swamped already, busy with a bunch of projects and your client comes to ask you for help with something. It is easy to think “just tell them no” right? Wrong. If they ask you for something, that is part of your role, and when you simply say “no” it leaves them hanging. It leaves them wondering if you are able to give them the support they need or if you are the person for the job.
Saying no to your clients too much could ultimately end a working relationship.
(Just to be clear – I’m not referring to someone asking you to do something that you aren’t able to do. If something is outside of your scope of expertise or skillset, then you don’t want to go there.)
Same scenario – your plate is full, you are already swamped and your client comes to you asking for help with yet another thing. Instead of saying “no”, how about considering how you can say “yes on your terms”? How can you say “yes” to a client without adding to your already swamped/busy schedule? How can you say “yes” and still keep your sanity?
Some ideas for you:
- Talk to your client about shifting priorities – Given that you already have a full plate, where does this new project fit in? I think by default we assume that everything has to be done all at once, which isn’t usually the case (nor is it possible) – and yet our clients may ask for everything at once, not understanding what it actually takes to get it done. Our job is to be able to say “given everything going on, I can’t do X, Y and Z all at once – so let’s take a look at everything, shift some priorities and deadlines so that we can get it done.” You’ve then set it up so that you can say yes to everything with new and realistic deadlines.
- Perhaps someone else on the team can help? – Even if your client is asking you for help that doesn’t mean you have to be the person to do the work. Talk to your client about the fact that your plate is already full, and if this needs to be done now, perhaps Suzy can help? (And be the one to get Suzy on board to do the work – don’t pass that back to your client.) You’ve set up a situation where you are able to say “yes” to getting the work done without adding it to your own plate – dreamy!
- Does this have to be done at all? – Many of us will have clients who fall prey to bright, shiny object syndrome – they get distracted by new, fun things that pop up on their radar and decide they want to do it “right now!” And then of course they come to you with that urgency to do the work and do it quickly. With a client like this you may want to probe a bit further: “We are really focused on A, B, C right now – I’m not clear on why this is important to add to the mix?” Sometimes with a bit of discussion and a gentle reminder of current priorities, you may get to the place where some things don’t need to be done at all or can be shelved for a later date.
The bottom line is this – it’s not only about us. I believe we actually do a disservice to our clients when we say blindly “yes” to everything. Not only do we put ourselves in a situation of taking on too much and potentially starting to drop the ball… we set up unrealistic expectations with our clients who will come to expect you to always be able to “do it all right now.” This isn’t healthy for you or the business.
Ideally, you want to get your clients to a place where they can see and understand the reality of what it takes to get things done, and that they can start to plan their own strategies and needs accordingly. When you both live in reactive “we need to do this now!” mode, that is simply not sustainable and all parties suffer for it.
So let’s say “yes” loud and proud… and on our own terms.