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“If you make unreasonable people unhappy, you are probably doing something right.”–Anonymous Psychiatrist

“I have often regretted saying ‘Yes,’ but I have never regretted saying ‘No.’” –Anonymous Attorney

Will this be how you define the quality of your day?

Most people value feeling accepted and liked. For some, the feeling is stronger, compelling them to keep others happy and remain “likeable.” The desire to stay in the good graces of others is healthy and adaptive, but impossible to sustain 100% of the time. Everyone faces moments when their decisions or actions leave others feeling unhappy, and leave them unpopular.

No matter how hard you try to keep others happy, you will inevitably experience situations in which it is necessary to say “No” or make an unpopular decision. Examples include:

  • Assigning an unwanted task
  • Taking something away
  • Choosing one over another
  • Declining to help or offer time
  • Making a decision someone doesn’t like for whatever reason

These will make you unpopular—temporarily. However, just because someone does not like your decision doesn’t mean that it’s the wrong decision.

Since it’s impossible to keep people happy 100% of the time, how do we keep from worrying that others will dislike us, reject us, or make us feel like a bad person for saying “No?”

Being unpopular does not mean you’re incompetent

Consider Bill Belichick, Coach of the New England Patriots. He’s not popular, not even well-liked, and is considered abrasive by many in the sports media. He has also led the Patriots to 3 Super Bowls.

Rham Emanuel, former White House Chief of Staff to President Obama, was feared and hated by many in Washington, but he still got things done. He was also elected Mayor of Chicago after leaving his Cabinet position.

Popular decisions are not always the healthiest decisions 

Imagine a boss who allows her employee to leave work early so he can go surfing, or a father who allows his daughter to eat a slab of cake. What employee or child wouldn’t be thrilled with these decisions? No question they would enhance popularity.  But you can’t honestly conclude that these decisions are healthy.

It hurts to miss out on epic surf, but this employee can still see his boss’ reasoning when she declines him an early departure.

Now let’s consider the flip side. When people don’t get what they want, it’s not uncommon for them to voice their displeasure or protest. This does not mean they no longer like you.  Sometimes people just need to save face or vent their feelings. In reality, most people don’t hold prolonged grudges following one unpopular decision, or even several. Despite their protests, people will typically accept fair decisions and act appropriately.

Another person’s angry reaction in no way proves you’re a bad person

Sometimes, when people are confronted with strong reactions, they actually start to believe they are a bad, incompetent, or unlikeable person.  Can this really be true? Even if you were the world’s greatest decision-maker, with the utmost consideration for others’ feelings, someone would still be unhappy with you from time to time.

C’mon, man. I can’t please everyone all the time.

People get mad for many reasons, most of which have nothing to do with you.  It’s not your job to prevent or take responsibility for other people’s anger, especially when your decisions are reasonable. To label anyone a “bad” person, including yourself, cannot be done lightly. It requires evidence—and occasional angry reactions are not sufficient to prove you are “bad.”

Consider the qualities that make you likeable. What leads people to accept you, or not?  Do people measure your worth using only your unfavorable decisions, and ignore your values and strengths? Most reasonable people, the kind you want on your side, will consider your character, and not judge you solely on your unpopular decisions. Over time, a high quality character is what truly builds popularity.

So don’t be afraid to make necessary decisions, even if they make you unpopular. No matter how unpleasant that may feel, it won’t last forever, and you will still be a good, likeable person that people respect.

by Jason Sackett, LCSW
Professional Staff at CWFL

jsackett@usc.edu

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