Why It’s Time to Ditch People-Pleasing

I have a not-so-shocking confession: I’m a “yes woman,” “whatever you need,” bona fide people-pleaser.

Whether it’s at home, at church or at work, I find myself always saying “yes” to helping clean up afterwards, taking on the projects that sound challenging that no one else wants or doing something simply because I think it will make others content. After all, if I’m not going out of my way to make others happy, what am I doing with my life?

From an early age, young professionals are conditioned to work hard, make our parents/bosses/superiors happy and do whatever it takes to please others. And while it’s especially important to recognize that leadership must incorporate elements of humility and serving others, this should not be to the extent that we start sacrificing our own wellbeing.

Not only can too much people-pleasing affect our sanity and wellbeing, but it doesn’t even really help us to advance our careers the way we think it does. In fact, people pleasing can have the opposite effect and reflect as disingenuous.

Christine Carter from Greater Good Magazine shared why it doesn’t pay to be a people-pleaser. “People pleasing, in my extensive personal experience, is a process of guessing what other people want, or what will make them think favorably of us and then acting accordingly. It’s an often subtle and usually unconscious attempt at manipulating other people’s perceptions of us. Anytime we pretend to be or feel something that we aren’t, we’re out of integrity with ourselves.”

So instead of people-pleasing, how can we truly step up to contribute to our teams, organizations and homes in a more genuine, healthy way? Here are some tips to get started:

  1. Admit and commit to change. Start by assessing the root cause of your need to please others. Are you like me and fear rejection or failure if you don’t take on more? Maybe the habit stems from childhood and needing praise in order to feel worthy. Take time to think through why you habitually put others before yourself.

By identifying the reasons behind your people-pleasing, you stand a better chance to start overcoming them. Then, pinpoint exactly where you want to improve. Make a list of where you notice your people-pleasing tendencies coming up at the office.

  1. Start being real. Are you like me and always nodding emphatically in every conversation to pretend you’re enthused by the subject matter? You don’t have to agree with everyone else’s views to be liked or to advance in your career. In fact, respecting and being true to yourself are far more like-able than trying to come off as agreeable.

Take note of those moments where you’re about to “people-please” and ask, “How do I really feel about this?” “Do I really want to take this on?” “Am I being in integrity with myself?” By confronting yourself with these questions, you can start being more real with what’s important to you and what’s not, rather than focusing on what’s going to make you more like-able.

  1. Set boundaries. Fran Hauser, media executive and author of “The Myth of the Nice Girl: Achieving A Career You Love Without Becoming a Person You Hate,” shared how she went from being the last person staying late in her office to setting appropriate boundaries in her workplace. For her, it took a few times to start asserting boundaries, but once she’d “had enough,” she approached her boss in a firm and diplomatic manner.

“I’ve been struggling with how to talk to you about this. Over the past two weeks, I’ve had to change my personal plans three times at the last minute to stay late. I’m afraid my boyfriend is going to break up with me! But truthfully, I wonder if this is a good opportunity for someone else on the team to step up and pitch in.”

Her boss admitted to always deferring to her for those tasks because he’d assumed she wanted to take them on. But after having that conversation, the team began to share tasks more equally. Hauser was successful by establishing boundaries for herself. Not only did she improve her own professional situation, but the entire team dynamic as well.

So the next time you raise your hand to volunteer for that extra side-project, take meeting notes or stay late at work, ask yourself why. If you’re doing it because you genuinely love the work you do and feel the work aligns with your goals, then by all means go ahead. But if you find you’re doing it because you feel you “have to” or “they won’t like me if I don’t,” then take a pause. Don’t let yourself differ to people-pleasing anymore. You’ll find in the end, you’ll be more fulfilled and people will respect you more for being truer to yourself.

For more reading on this topic, check out:

Are You a Work Martyr?

This post is part of GovLoop’s millennial blog series, First 5 

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