Worrying about what others think of you should not be a major consideration in your life. But it’s a particularly difficult problem for those with people-pleasing tendencies, who worry about what others think of them.
People-pleasing behavior is when you’re hungry for approval and eager to avoid conflict and so you say “yes,” even when you don’t want to. You might also tell little untruths to avoid hurt feelings and you suppress your real opinions and beliefs just to get along and to make things smoother. You might even take on more and more work so as not to disappoint or be disliked, until you reach the point of overwhelm.
The ironic part is that people-pleasing often backfires and has the opposite of the intended effect. I conducted extensive interviews with a wide range of employees for Find the Fire to understand what happens when we engage in people-pleasing behavior and how others perceive that behavior. I uncovered results simply by asking, “What is your perception of co-workers who are people-pleasers?”
Here’s what I found and then what to do about it if you count yourself guilty on this charge.
People-pleasers, while seeking affirmation, draw contempt.
People-pleasers emit insecurity, a lack of confidence, and come across as weak and needy. And it’s often patently obvious that someone is engaging in people-pleasing behavior. As author of Be Kind, Not Nice, Dr. Marcia Sirota says, “Human beings are highly sensitive to power dynamics in relationships, and we’re always looking to see who the alpha is and who’s at the bottom of the totem pole.”
Unfortunately, those who willingly (in the eyes of the beholder) lower their status through people-pleasing behavior, tend to draw undesirable perceptions in return. This includes drawing irritation, a lack of respect, and even contempt from others. It makes it far more likely you’ll get taken advantage of by people who believe they can get what they need from you simply by becoming confrontational.
Worse still, you’re more likely to be a target for workplace bullying (i.e. the recipient of others outsized tirades and outbursts). In fact, one ABC News report from 2013 said 12 million people a year report being bullied at work, mostly women, and that the primary target is people-pleasers, or those with the “disease to please” as the report called it.
So how to stop the unpleasant outcomes from people-pleasing? Try these five tips.
1. Commit to 90 percent self-worth, 10 percent assigned worth.
How you feel about and value yourself should come predominantly (90 percent) from your sense of self-worth and self-appreciation. It’s OK to save 10 percent for worth that’s assigned to you, i.e. how others tell you they see you or what they think about you.
Purists would say the way you view yourself should be 100 percent self-worth and zero percent assigned worth, but I think that’s unrealistic. We all need some external validation from time to time. It’s when the 90 percent starts dipping down to 70, 60, 50 percent that real trouble arises and people-pleasing behavior kicks into overdrive.
2. Stop thinking about what the universe thinks; worry about what you think instead.
I don’t mean be callous to others. Just start putting up boundaries that will allow you to first take care of your needs before turning focus to others. This isn’t a selfish view point. Actually, being a people-pleaser is selfish because you’re doing what’s easiest and cheating people from receiving your valuable, true thoughts and reactions.
3. Compassion, yes. Compulsion, no.
Just be aware of why you’re about to engage in people-pleasing behaviors. There are times when it’s warranted (like when someone has just been through something rough and needs empathy).
So if you’re doing it out of kindness, that’s a good thing. If you’re people-pleasing out of a desire to avoid conflict, not so good. Engaging in people-pleasing as an autopilot behavior will never lead to much good and you’ll begin to lose your authentic self to a more robotic, false-signal self.
4. Shatter the mirror.
People-pleasers tend to reflect back the person that’s right in front of them in their efforts to please. Catch yourself in these moments and imagine the visual of you shattering that mirror. Replace the surface level reflection with the authentic you.
5. Send it back.
People-pleasing behavior tends to have deep roots. Perhaps you had an over demanding parent or a terrible experience with rejection as a child. The point is to simply ask yourself “Why do I still go into people-pleasing mode?” Try to identify the root cause and give yourself permission to put a halt to the behavior.