Why You Can’t Help Others If You Sacrifice Your Needs

multitasking man using tablet, laptop and cellhpone

We’re all familiar with some of the old adages about taking care of ourselves:

“You can’t drink from an empty well.”

“You need to put your own oxygen mask on first.”

And fine. They’re true.

But today I’d like to look at how sacrificing your own needs to help others may negatively impact your interactions with those around you.

It’s great to want to be of service to others.  But if you do so without paying attention to where your own needs fit in, it will eventually catch up to you.

I should know. I’m a recovering people-pleaser, volunteer extraordinaire, just-knock-on-my-door-and-I’ll-come-running-to-help kind of person.

In my professional role, I’ve worked with many individuals who haven’t felt at ease expressing what they need.  They’re faced with competing demands from individuals and feel uncomfortable ever saying no.  They keep saying yes because they want people around them to be happy.

But the reality is that the opposite outcome is usually more common.  Although the person may always be willing to help out in a pinch, it doesn’t come no cost.

Resentment inevitably builds.

This resentment tends to eventually spill out somewhere – most often onto team members and/or people at home (and sometime, even on a random person at the grocery store!).

That person who is willing to do anything eventually ends up spending a lot of time complaining about how they’re always asked to do everything. They feel overwhelmed.  They have too much on their plate to be able to truly advance any of the projects assigned to them.

And frankly, they’ll blame it on you, for asking.

So although, from a managerial or leadership perspective, it often seems lovely to have team members who are willing to step up no matter what, it ultimately comes at a great cost.

If you have team members who regularly sacrifice themselves and their needs, it will lead to a lot of lost productivity as people spend their time complaining instead of working.

And frankly, it’s simply not sustainable. 

The best thing that you can do as a leader to discourage this kind of self-sacrificial behaviour in your employees is to model what it looks like to set appropriate boundaries.  Make decisions that do not sacrifice your own needs.  When people are asking for too much, speak up.  Set and respect limits around your working hours.  Model prioritizing tasks and saying no. 

If you sense that one of your team members is telling you yes, but would rather be saying no, then open up a discussion about it.  Try something such as, “I’m getting the sense this you may have some concerns.  Can you tell me a bit more?” or “you’re telling me yes, but I’m sensing some reticence.”.

Being in tune with the importance of ensuring that the needs of the organization don’t always trump the needs of the individuals who comprise it will ensure long-term well-being of your team members and hence, higher productivity and performance.

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Lindsay Lapaquette

Lindsay Lapaquette

Lindsay Lapaquette, M.Sc.(A) works with middle managers who want to communicate authentically so they can effectively lead their teams without losing themselves. As a former Speech-Language Pathologist, Lindsay applies her expertise in the neuroscience of communication and connection to help managers foster an environment of trust and respect in their teams, so that everyone can bring their best selves to work.

Lindsay’s approach has been profoundly influenced by her work with First Nations organizations, her experience as a parent to two neurodivergent children, and the premature loss of both of her parents. These experiences have taught Lindsay great lessons about the power of excellent people skills that extend well beyond her professional expertise.

Lindsay Lapaquette

Lindsay Lapaquette

Lindsay Lapaquette, M.Sc.(A) works with middle managers who want to communicate authentically so they can effectively lead their teams without losing themselves. As a former Speech Language Pathologist, Lindsay applies her expertise in the neuroscience of communication and connection to help managers foster an environment of trust and respect in their teams, so that everyone can bring their best selves to work.

Lindsay’s approach has been profoundly influenced by her work with First Nations organizations, her experience as a parent to two children with pervasive mental health challenges, and the premature loss of both of her parents. These experiences have taught Lindsay great lessons about the power of excellent people skills that extend well beyond her professional expertise.

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Hi, I'm Lindsay

Leadership communication skills to elevate team performance.

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