How One ‘People Pleaser’ Learned to Take Her Life Back at Work

I was up visiting clients in New York City last winter when Natalie and I were beaming at the company’s holiday party.  Beaming because the owners of the small but successful design studio informed us that she and I would work together in the year ahead to fuel her leadership skills. They knew she was essential to the firm’s progress moving forward.

Natalie’s responsibilities include managing the company’s staff; working with software developers and designers to get projects out; managing client relationships; and pitching and pricing new business. She was amazing juggling her many roles, but she was losing time and peace of mind working with one particularly difficult–but important–client.

As the story unfolded, I learned that this single client was sucking up a lot of her time, and she felt like she was on call 24/7. He texted her at all times of day and night, creating a sense of urgency and panic for items that were, in fact, not urgent at all. Rather than asking if she could do something he clicked into her calendar and scheduled her time. As a result of his actions, Natalie was constantly changing plans within the firm and with the firm’s other clients.

More pressure and strain was added to the situation because, although the difficult client was an existing client, Natalie’s studio was in competition for another piece work with his firm. She told me that she felt she had to respond to his every perceived “need.” In the end Natalie was physically and emotionally exhausted. It simply wasn’t a sustainable way to live or to do business.

There was no question about Natalie’s work ethic, her loyalty to her company, or about her ability to perform her job (again, the owners—two great men–brought me in as an investment in her future and the future growth of the studio).

The problem was that Natalie, like many women (and a few men), was a ‘people pleaser’, and people in a position of authority were particularly hard for her to ignore. The more she jumped through hoops, the more the situation seemed to spiral out of control. Here are the mindset shifts Natalie mastered to turn her situation around:


3 Keys to Taking Back Your Power

  •    Set healthy boundaries:

    We began with a very important meeting, the one in which her studio would pitch the new business. Instead of waiting for the client to put the time on her calendar, I worked with Natalie to be proactive. She reached out to him with the exact times that worked for her team and the times that did not. Setting boundaries is critical because it shows you respect yourself and expect others to respect you, too.

  •    Practice restraint

    I also worked with Natalie to stop responding immediately every time the client texted her, which almost instantaneously reduced the sense of urgency and panic. The client responded by backing off, and recently responded to an email with more than two words, making an actual show of enthusiasm.

  •    Take a leap of faith

    When Natalie first began setting healthy boundaries and practicing restraint, she was worried. What if it blew up in her face? What allowed her to follow through with my suggestions was that she mustered up her courage to try them. It wasn’t blind faith by a long shot but it was an educated ‘leap of faith’ based of my ongoing relationship with the studio’s founders.


Categories: confidence, decisions, setting boundaries, workplace

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The belief that opened doors for me? Discovering I could serve others through making the right requests. The request itself became a vehicle for personal transformation. I became more courageous and more confident.