4 ways to stop being taken advantage of at work (without losing respect)

The Muse
Patricia Thompson
Challenging the boss helped Xerox's Ursula Burns rise through the ranks

Have you ever found yourself in the middle of an activity at work that you really wished you hadn't agreed to? Maybe you ended up joining the company softball team, even though you hate sports and are embarrassed by your inability to throw in a straight line.

Perhaps you became the organizer of all of the office birthday parties, because no one else would do it. Or, maybe you picked up the slack yet again, and ended up staying late for a colleague who begged you to help him to finish a project at the last minute.

We've all been there. And, let's be real: There definitely will be times when you have to do things at work that you would rather not. However, if you find yourself in this position more than you would like simply because you don't want to let other people down, then you could be a people pleaser.

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And it may not seem like a big deal in the short term. But in the long-term, the cons far outweigh the pros. Accommodating others too much can result in feeling overwhelmed (because you've taken on too many commitments), resentful (because of the inherent imbalances in the relationship), and stifled (because you're constantly ignoring your own needs in a quest to be liked).

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It can also make you feel inauthentic, because when you're smiling on the outside — despite feeling frustrated on the inside — you're essentially pretending to be someone who you're not. In fact, research suggests that smiling to appease others when you're not genuinely feeling happy, is linked to a decreased sense of well-being, and "withdraw[al] from work."

So what's a people pleaser to do? Here are four tips to deal:

1. Give others more credit

Sometimes when you're bending over backwards, it might come from a place of not giving others enough credit. For example, you might tell yourself, "If I don't help him, how will he manage?" or "Nobody else is going to do it, so I have to jump in." The reality is, people are often much more resilient than we believe.

If you say, "no," most people can either find someone else to say, "yes" if they're motivated to do so or even solve the problem themselves.

2. Be more compassionate (to yourself)

People pleasers tend to be very compassionate when it comes to others. They frequently anticipate others' needs and do their best to try to prevent the people around them from feeling uncomfortable.

However, to stop being taken advantage of, you've got to learn to treat yourself with that same level of respect. Recognize your own worth and be willing to be an advocate for yourself.

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A good rule of thumb is to consider, "If this request was being made of someone else, what would I think?" If you start to feel protective, then it's a sign you might be getting close to being taken advantage of.

3. Set boundaries

Fact: You can't say "no" to every single task you don't want to do. After all, everybody has to spend some time each day doing things they would rather not.

But, figuring out what's part of the job and what's above-and-beyond takes practice. As does turning down that extra work.

Experiment with saying "no" or at least, "not now" to requests. Respectfully disagree with someone in a meeting instead of just going along with them (Psst — here's how). You'll likely find that speaking up more helps you to feel more confident each time you do it.

4. Learn to deal with conflict

At first, you may feel uncomfortable setting boundaries because it's new for you. But once you step up and say something, you may find it's a total non-event. In other words, when you say "no," the other person simply says "OK," and that's the end of it.

However, there may be an instance in which advocating for yourself results in conflict. Now, it could be that the other person genuinely needs your help or expertise, and that's part of being on a team. But, it could also be that they're simply used to you pulling the extra weight, and you'll need to wade through the conflict.

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Instead of avoiding it, prepare your conflict management skills in advance so you can approach these situations with a greater sense of confidence. Practice deep breathing to manage your stress in the moment, consider the issue from your co-worker's point of view, and prepare "I" statements that convey how the situation makes you feel.

Finally, run what you are planning to say past a trusted friend or colleague to get another perspective. If you anticipate a really difficult interaction, you might even want to role play it with someone.

The final step in recovering from being a people pleaser is to start asking for things. Delegate. Let others assist you. Doing so will help you to shift your relationships from one-sided to more reciprocal.

And, as you get used to receiving from others, you'll realize that being a doormat simply isn't necessary for having positive relationships. Make sure to consider your own needs with the needs of those around you, and you'll be able to find the right balance.

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This article originally appeared on The Muse.

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