“In trying to please all, he had pleased none.” ~Aesop
I was recently coaching a client I’ll call Amanda. Although she hated to admit it, Amanda was the office people pleaser.
She was always the first one to volunteer for the activities that no one else wanted to do. As a boss, she constantly jumped in and saved her team at the first signs of struggle. And, when people didn’t follow through on their commitments to her, she always said, “that’s okay,” then stayed late to pick up the slack.
Based on her good-natured style, Amanda was very well-liked. She was seen as a kind and compassionate person, and her colleagues appreciated her willingness to bend over backwards to help them out.
However, she wasn’t particularly respected. Her co-workers never prioritized her requests, because they knew that she would always be understanding. And, although her team loved her, most of them didn’t really see her as a good leader, because she shied away from holding people accountable.
Although she enjoyed being liked, Amanda realized that her people-pleasing ways had several drawbacks. For example, she frequently worked longer hours than she wanted to, because she was completing other people's work. Further, to add insult to injury, despite all of the effort she was putting in, she had been overlooked for promotions several times
And, although she didn’t like to admit it, she sometimes felt resentful. After all, although she frequently went out of her way for others, other people didn’t have the same level of responsiveness to her requests.
Could You Be People Pleaser?
Can you relate to Amanda's story? Do you think you could be a people pleaser?
If you’re not sure, here are a few questions to ask yourself:
-Do you have a hard time saying “no?”
-Do you worry a lot about disappointing others?
-Do you bend over backwards for other people, often to your own detriment?
-Do you do some things of a feeling of obligation, and then feel resentful?
-Are you afraid that if you don’t accommodate others they’ll think you’re not “nice?
-Do you avoid advocating for yourself because you’re afraid of conflict?
-Do you let your other people “walk all over you?”
If you find yourself nodding your head to a lot of these, then you probably could stand to make some changes in this area. After all, although pleasing others at your own expense might gain you some approval in the short term, in the long-term, the cons far outweigh the pros.
So what do you do if you want to move on from your people-pleasing ways? Here are five suggestions for you.
1. Be more compassionate - to yourself
As a people pleaser, you’re probably very compassionate. You might anticipate others’ needs before they’re even aware of them. And, you might not push for your own suggestions because you're afraid it might make others uncomfortable.
Compassion is definitely a positive quality to have in the workplace. It's linked to all sorts of positive outcomes for everyone involved. However, for most people pleasers, their compassion is only directed towards others.
The solution? Aim to be compassionate with yourself. Recognize that you are just as valuable as the people around you, and just as deserving of consideration.
You could also ask yourself, “If this request was being made of someone else, what would I think?” If you start to feel protective, it’s a good sign that some boundary-setting is probably in order.
2. Recognize other's resilience.
When you're bending over backwards to help others, it could be coming from a belief that the other person just can’t figure out how to solve the problem on his or her own. As a result, you jump in and help even though you don’t want to, out of a sense of obligation.
Guess what? People tend to be pretty resilient. If they can't get help from one person, they can usually find someone else who can assist them. Or they can figure it out on their own. But, if you’re always saying “yes” you can train them to become dependent on you.
For example, if you're the sort of manager who jumps in the first moment you see one of your people struggling, you could be holding them back from learning important lessons. Maybe they need to get better at planning, managing their time, or being self-reliant. Or, even if they fail, it might make them more prone to approach a similar situation differently in the future. Have a little more faith in others, and they just might surprise you.
3. Set Boundaries
To stop being a people pleaser, you’re going to have to set some boundaries. Now obviously, you probably can’t start just saying “no” to everything you might not want to do - after all, everybody at work usually has to spend some time each day doing things they would rather not. But, you can think about your priorities, reflect on whether or not something is putting you out too much, and then act accordingly.
Consider your workload and how reasonable the other person's request is. Then, if it's too inconvenient, say “no” or at least, “not now.” If you have a difference of opinion, respectfully disagree. In most organizations with healthy cultures, the ability to have respectful debate and to assert your opinions is seen as a good thing, and the mark of a high performer. So experiment with it, and see how you do.
4. Learn to deal with conflict
Often, you’ll find out that setting a boundary is a total non-event. Someone asks you for something, you say “no” or “not now” and provide a time that would be convenient for you. They say “ok” and everyone goes along their merry ways.
But sometimes, when you set a boundary, people might not like it - especially if they’re used to you bending over backwards for them. They might not know how to respond to this new you. So, what do you do?
First, keep in mind your goal for the conversation, which is to consider both of your needs equally. You might even suggest some alternatives that could help the other person to accomplish their goal. Be empathetic and kind, but feel free to hold your ground.
Second, if you’re generally being a good teammate who isn’t just going around saying “no” willy nilly, remind yourself that it's impossible to please everyone all the time. All you’re doing is setting an appropriate boundary.
5. Practicing Receiving
My last tip? Practice getting good at receiving from others. If you’re tired of having one-sided relationships, then start asking for stuff. Delegate. Let other people help you - even if it’s the person walking your groceries out to the car. The more you get comfortable with accepting help from others, the more support you’ll get. And, that added support will go a long way towards helping you to get rid of any feelings of resentment you might have for others.
Furthermore, when you get help from others, it will show you that you don’t always have to accommodate others to have positive interactions. Relationships that involve mutual give and take are the ones that are the most rewarding.
Although it might take some practice, giving up your people-pleasing ways can be a huge relief. So, try it out, and enjoy the benefits!
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