The gracious phrase every people-pleaser should know


I am a recovering people-pleaser. Or pushover, if you will. I could never say no to volunteer opportunities that were too time-consuming or girls’ nights at restaurants I couldn’t afford. Pathetic, I know. But I had an experience about five years ago that changed everything…

The back story is that when I was 14 weeks pregnant with my second child I was diagnosed with a life-threatening condition and was put on immediate bed rest. My devoted husband and mother had to take care of my every need as I could not get out of the bed except to go to the bathroom. After 10 weeks at home my OB recommended that I spend the remainder of my pregnancy in the hospital. That way I could immediately be rushed in to the OR when it was time for my (most certain) emergency c-section. To say the stress level in our household was high was quite an understatement!

The day before being admitted to the hospital my mind was swirling with “what ifs” and, of course, the fear of not coming home with the baby who was now strongly kicking inside me. Thankfully the house was quiet with my two year old at Mother’s Day Out and husband at work, so I could at least cry and pray in peace. But about mid-morning the doorbell rang. It was my neighbor on the front porch, a huge garbage bag full of dirty laundry at her feet, wanting to know if she could please use our washing machine because hers had broken.

Now a person with any sense at all would have politely said no and perhaps suggest another neighbor who might be home. But because I was a) caught off guard and b) felt bad because she was a single mom who was newly divorced, I let her in.

The funny part is that our washing machine and dryer were in our bathroom. So there I was, helpless and bedridden, with someone doing laundry about five feet away in our small, messy bathroom. The meaningless small talk I was forced to have with someone I didn’t know very well just about sent me over the edge (which stressed me out even more because I knew stress was bad for my pregnancy!).

I seriously wanted to cry as she did load after load of laundry, coming in and out of my house all day. And I did cry later that night. A lot. I was so mad at myself for not being able to say no, for letting myself get so worked up, and for possibly compromising my pregnancy even more.

This ordeal was the final straw for me and my people-pleasing tendencies. I vowed never again to be embarrassed or guilt-ridden about saying no when my family’s well-being was at stake. (Or my mental well-being, for that matter!)

Thankfully, my mom gave me a wonderful phrase that can be used to turn people down nicely and efficiently. And it’s this little phrase: “I know you’ll understand.”

Try it. These four words can be used in just about any situation:

“I know you’ll understand, but it’s just not a good time for me to have visitors right now, but maybe Leslie next door can let you use her washing machine.”

“I know you’ll understand, but my husband and I are really trying to save for a house, so we can’t go on that couples’ trip to Sonoma this fall. But count us in for the next trip!”

“I know you’ll understand, but I can’t sign my child up another activity this semester; I’m really trying to allow us to have more family time. Maybe in the Spring though!”

“I know you’ll understand, but with a six-month-old it’s hard to try to get to three different family get-togethers on Christmas Day.”

Saying “I know you’ll understand” to begin your sentence immediately deflects attention away from you (and the guilty temptation you have about declining!) and puts it back on the person asking. This succinct phrase forces the “asker” to consider your circumstances and, hopefully, it tugs at their empathy bell.

Over the past five years, this has been my gracious way of declining even the most well-meaning people. And I have found that if I have little phrases like in my vocabulary arsenal, I am never caught off guard!

What are your “go to” phrases for awkward situations? Would love to hear!




P.S. The baby who was supposed to die shortly after birth is about to turn five this fall. When we call her our “Miracle Baby” we truly mean it.

Photo credit: Gstockstudio1

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5 thoughts on “The gracious phrase every people-pleaser should know

  1. I needed this advice so badly! I literally just experienced something like this and have such a hard time saying no to people’s requests because I want to be nice! Ha I will definitely try this out and hopefully it will help 🙂 thanks Lee!

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