18th July, 2023

Why You Should Expect Pushback and What to do About it

With Rachel Morris

Dr Rachel Morris

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On this episode

It’s a fact of life that we can’t please everyone. That’s why one of the hardest things to do is say no and try to keep everyone happy with our decisions. Even if it’s against our will, we try to give a piece of ourselves to everyone. The thing is, that takes a toll on us until resentment builds up in our hearts. So, how do you expect pushback while staying firm with your decisions?

In this Quick Dip, we explore the topic of pushback, how it affects our emotions, and why we should expect it. We lay down tips on removing guilt from receiving pushback and handling other people’s reactions. It’s one thing to expect pushback but another to deal with it. The first step is to accept the fact that there’s somebody that will always oppose your views and decisions.

Stand your ground firmly but compassionately. If you want to know how to expect and deal with pushback, this episode is for you.

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Reasons to listen

  • Learn the power of expecting pushback.
  • Find out how resentment builds up and its consequences.
  • Discover the best ways to deal with pushback.

Episode highlights


On Pushback


Expecting Pushback


How Resentment Builds Up


Expecting Feedback


How to Deal with Pushback


Hunting for the Grain of Truth


Setting Boundaries and Expecting Pushback

Episode transcript

Dr Rachel Morris: This is a You Are Not A Frog quick dip, a tiny taster of the kinds of things we talk about on our full podcast episodes. I’ve chosen today’s topic to give you a helpful boost in the time it takes to have a cup of tea, so you can return to whatever else you’re up to feeling energized and inspired. For more tools, tips and insights to help you thrive at work, don’t forget to subscribe to You Are Not A Frog wherever you get your podcasts.

This is a quick dip all about pushback, specifically why we should expect pushback because if I’m honest, I have sometimes gone through life with the thought that everybody should always be happy with my decisions. And that if I get any pushback about something, it’s obviously the wrong idea, and I must never ever, ever upset anybody. Now when you think about it, this is just nonsensical. Of course, not everyone is going to agree with every single decision I make.

When you think about the police when they have to arrest somebody, does that person who’s been arrested like it? Will they push back? Yes, of course, they will. Does that mean that the police are wrong to arrest them? Probably not. But when we are in occupations, where the doctor-patient relationship is really important, where we need to get on with our colleagues, where we like to be liked and we like to be helpful. When people don’t like our decisions, when we get pushed back, our boundaries just crumble.

The idea that if I get pushed back on a decision, then it’s the wrong one or I’m a bad person is so so unhelpful. Instead, what we should be thinking is that if I make a difficult decision, I probably will get pushed back. Otherwise, it wouldn’t have been a difficult decision. If I’ve ever had to think about something and ever weighed it up in my mind, then there will probably be somebody who doesn’t like it.

This is normal, it means the message has landed. It means your boundaries are working. Imagine having a toddler who never kicked off when you took that favourite toy away from them, or never threw their toys out of a pram quite literally when you said no to buying that thing in the shop. When others disagree with what you’ve just said or a decision that you’ve made, it means message received.

It means I don’t like the message that’s been received, but I have understood it. And it might mean it’s not what they want, but we can predict this. We can almost 100% predict when we’re going to get pushback. I guess that’s what makes these conversations so difficult in the first place. The problem is that if we change our minds, if our boundaries crumble, when we get pushed back, it means that we end up living our lives to somebody else’s agenda.

It means that we start flip-flopping over decisions and appearing very uncertain and unsure. Now, side note, there is nothing wrong with rethinking decisions, having thought about them, being presented with new evidence, and looks at things from different people’s points of view. That’s actually a real strength. And Adam Grant has written a lot about this in his book Think Again, so do check that out if you’re interested.

Flip-flopping often is due to anxiety, guilt and shame, rather than the fact that you genuinely needed to rethink that decision. And when we think we’re being compassionate, actually, what often happens is we’re being anything but. We have this creeping resentment that we’ve given way we’ve given in yet again, yet again, and again. And if you’re anything like me, suddenly, you’ll have a massive blow-up about something really, really trivial just because you have given into that pushback all the way along.

I had a week, the other week, where I just seemed to have zero boundaries about anything, I gave in to everybody who wanted a piece of me. I cancelled the bit of self-care I put into place on a Saturday because a relative decided they were going to come and visit. I didn’t ask for help and I got myself into a state where I was feeling so resentful about other people always pushing their needs onto me, instead of anybody meeting my needs that quite frankly, I wasn’t very nice to live with.

Because when we think we’re taking things well, often the resentment just builds up and builds up and then it leaks out around the edges. And constantly managing our emotions and saying “No, it’s okay, I’ll change because they’re upset,” actually becomes very, very stressful. And what we know from recent work about emotions and health, at suppressing those emotions, and always acquiescing is really bad for our health and can shock in all sorts of other ways.

But if we do expect feedback about decisions that we’ve made or things that we’ve said, then we’ll be equipped to stand up to those boundaries. Things will be a lot less stressful and we’ll stop getting really anxious and worried about stuff that is totally out of our control, ie other people’s reactions. We cannot make someone accept a decision like what we’ve said or be totally happy with something particularly when it’s going against what their wishes are.

Any difficult decision probably means you’re going to get some pushback. So how do we actually deal with pushback? It’s one thing to expect it, but how do we deal with it when it comes along. Now the thing about expecting it is that you can probably predict what it’s going to be.

I know that if I say to my family that on a Sunday morning, I’m going to disappear off for two hours to play tennis and then go for brunch with some friends, I sometimes get some pushback from people that wanted to do something else with me. But if it’s something that I want to do, if I haven’t seen those people for a long time and I’ve seen my family in other ways, I need to hold that ground recognizing that actually, it means they love me, they want to be with me.

Likewise, at work, if I’m asked to do something which I have chosen not to do and I get a bit of pushback, that’s okay. That just means they would really like me to come and do that thing, which I am not able to do or not prepared to do. And that’s okay, as well. You can choose what you want to do and what you don’t want to do.

You need to recognize that when you say a no, or when you make a decision that somebody else doesn’t like, you’re gonna get an inner chimp reaction from them as well. So you’ll get that amygdala reaction. And as Prof. Peter says, this amygdala threat detection reaction that we get, which puts us straight into our fight, flight or freeze zone, means your inner chimp comes out and you have this stress reaction.

Now, other people have that too. Of course they do, particularly if you contradict them or you don’t meet a need that they have. And that often happens when you have to say no. So expect someone’s chimp to come out. And when it does come out, think well, “Oh, there it is, there it is.” And you might experience that as someone being passive-aggressive, someone withdrawing, they might start to grumble a bit.

They might say things to make you feel a bit guilty, “Oh, you never spend time with me or you always-,” You might get a few little snide remarks. You might even get some sarcasm. You might get some actual aggression. They might say some quite nasty things at you. In which case, actually, if you’re anything like me, really bloody-minded just makes me entrench my position even more because that triggers my inner chimps to come out.

You might also get a bit of a martyr reaction from someone, you know, “Oh, that’s totally fine. I’ll just do it myself then.” So be aware that that is just as aggressive as someone who is actually expressing that out loud rather than just pretending it’s all okay. In a way, it’s great to get the pushback. It means that you know what’s going on for that person. And you know what? In any difficult thing, I have been taught that it’s very useful to hunt for that grain of truth.

Hunt for that grain of truth, it’s in everything. Now, that’s quite difficult to do, particularly when we start to feel very defensive when we get pushed back. But often, there is that little thing, that little grain of truth in what people are saying that you can take away with you. And think, “Ah, that’s interesting. How is that true and what could I do about it?”

Like I said, it’s a grain of truth, it is not the truth. And that’s the problem. If people were saying stuff to us that was completely untrue and was a pack of lies, we’d be fine, wouldn’t we? We’d go, “Yeah, that actually isn’t true, I can ignore it.” But it’s that stuff that people come back at us with, which is just partially true/

I had to have a difficult conversation with somebody the other day, and they come back at me with a whole barrage of criticism and a lot of stuff that wasn’t true. But there was some stuff in what they were saying that actually was true, which I recognized in myself and made me feel very upset and very defensive. And I could still keep my ground, recognizing that what I had fed back to them was okay and was right. And some of the stuff that they had said to me, or be it in anger, but might have been right as well.

In the cold light of day, I can look at it from all different angles and think, “Actually, what about that can I take, can I work on? Because pushback sometimes means that people are telling you stuff that you don’t know, that’s in the unknown-unknown bit of your Joe Harry window. There’s lots of stuff that we know about ourselves, but there’s quite a lot of stuff that other people know that we don’t. And sometimes it’s in those moments of anger, of stress, of pushback that we find out.

That can be helpful if you hold your nerve and hear that grain of truth as opposed to all the other stuff because what will happen is the pushback will trigger those stories in your head. Those “I should,” “I ought,” those shame stories, those guilt stories, and you will start to hit on raw nerve for yourself, which is why we find it so difficult. So recognizing those guilt gremlins of “I should,” “I ought,” is really helpful. And I think what we need to do then is distract them.

Give them something else to think about. Give them the long-term impact. Why am I saying no? Why am I in a situation where someone’s pushing back at me in the first place? Give them a shiny object to play with. And that is looking at the long-term, thinking, actually, what was the reason why I’ve said no, and just holding on to that. So when the guilt gremlins come, when the shoulds, ought tos have to come in, I can go, “You know what? This is the reason.

Knowing the end game, really, really important. Now, when we get pushed back, when our boundaries crumble, in another episode, I talked about the fact that we can just actually say, “You know what? It’s working. My boundary’s working because I’m getting pushback.” And I wonder if it would be helpful to start to get ourselves into the mindset of, “You know what? Bring it on. Bring it on. Bring on the pushback because I will find out some stuff I didn’t know before. It will help me show what your needs are. I can find that little grain of truth, and this will be good practice for me to hold on to the end game and use some power language.”

I’m going to do another episode about power language. So next time you have to make a difficult decision or say no and you think that someone’s not going to be happy, then predict what’s going to happen. Expect that pushback. And when it comes, think to yourself, “Bring it on.” Thank that person for sharing how they feel with you. Explain it doesn’t change your mind, but show some empathy. So next time you have to make a difficult decision, they notice something, or just do or say something that somebody doesn’t like, predict that push back.

You could play pushback bingo. So write down what reaction are you going to expect? Might someone grumble? Might they try and make you feel guilty? Shamed? Will it be stuff around “you ought to?” Will they be angry? Will they be passive-aggressive? Will they be martyrish? Will they just not say anything and let you infer stuff by their non-reaction? And tick off on the bingo card what you’re going to expect from them and be compassionate and say, “Thank you so much for sharing that, it’s really important.” And don’t let that change what your decision is in the first place.

If all else fails, then we’re back to one of my favorite techniques and that’s just eff it. I cannot please everybody all of the time, eff it, it will be okay, let go of the outcome we cannot control that. And the more we try to the more stressful it becomes. So know that the decisions that you make, the things you say yes to, no to, the things you ask people to do, the things you ask people not to do, you do it for a good reason.

You are a good person and you have good intentions. Nobody likes a no, you will get pushback. The best people in the world get pushback and wisdom is learning how to deal with it, not trying to keep everybody else happy. So go well, and I’ll see you for the next episode