Have you struggled with a people-pleasing habit you just can’t seem to kick? Consider some ways you can use this habit to your advantage.
It’s rare to meet a person who hasn’t struggled with people-pleasing at some point in his or her life. It’s a survival tactic, after all. It’s how we’ve learned to thrive in a world that is highly relational and inter-connected.
People who care how other people think and feel are better citizens, better spouses, better friends, better employers and employees and just all around more enjoyable to be around.
At the same time, you’d be hard pressed to find a through-and-through people pleaser who hasn’t suffered the consequences of the tendency. Focusing too much on what other people think, feel or need — without considering your own thoughts or feelings — can lead to helplessness, depression, frustration and self-entrapment.
If we stop caring about what people think or feel all together, we lose values like cooperation, teamwork, negotiation, bartering and community that have helped individuals and tribes to survive and thrive for decades.
There must be a way to overcome the detriments of people-pleasing without throwing out the baby with the bathwater.
Perhaps the best way to put your people-pleasing skills to use is to change the way you think about people-pleasing in the first place. In other words, it might help to step back and ask yourself if the things you’re doing to please others are actually pleasing them — or if you’re just wasting your energy.
There are two basic ways this happens:
The first way is to consider that leaving people unhappy in the short run might actually make them happier in the long run.
For example, if you’re in a team meeting and everyone in the group seems to agree about a topic but you disagree, your tendency might be to just go with the flow. It might seem, in the short run, like the entire team wants that from you.
But what if adding your contrary suggestion is actually better for everyone in the group in the long run? What if others in the group are sharing your same objections but don’t have the courage to speak up? What if your objections are important pitfalls no one else in the group has considered yet?
In this case, speaking up might seem like it is making people unhappy or inconvenienced in the moment. But weeks, months or years down the road you might have those same people thanking you for bringing up your concerns.
The second way is to entertain the idea that what is good for us is often good for others, too.
When we assert what we want into a situation, everyone involved tends to reap the benefits. This is not the way we naturally think about things, but more often than not it is true.
A great example of this is the man who is miserable in his work but thinks he can’t leave his current position because he’s too integral to the organization. He tells himself it would be too disappointing to his family, his boss and his coworkers if he were to quit.
He stays for months, or years, or heaven forbid, decades, using this same excuse.
But the moment he finally admits what he has wanted all along, he finds that while his team values him as a person, they were weighed down by his lack of energy toward the daily tasks and could have benefitted from someone who wasn’t, unknowingly, dragging his feet though the work day.
No matter matter where you fall on the “people pleasing” spectrum, take a few minutes to consider how you might simplify your life by re-framing the way you think about those people-pleasing tendencies.
No Sidebar: At Work
Believe it or not, there are times when being in tune to the needs of others and quick to respond might make you very effective in the workplace. Of course, there are other times when people-pleasing can be a deadly habit, keeping you small and preventing you from using your gifts or even getting compensation you deserve.
Consider this painful realization from Crystal Paine who learned the hard way — perhaps the hardest of all ways — that even the people you consider to be allies can be secret enemies.
At the end of the day, the thing to remember is this: while a certain amount of collaboration is necessary to succeed in the workplace, often times the most creative progress happens when we stop trying to be who everyone else needs us to be and just begin being ourselves.
No Sidebar: At Home
It should come as no surprise that people-pleasing has a dramatic impact on our families and home lives, especially since this is probably where our people-pleasing tendencies found their start. Consider, for example, the very first person you were concerned about pleasing: your parents.
Rather than trying to short-circuit the powerful paradigms (and survival tactics) we adopted as young children, perhaps the most freeing thing we can do is learn to notice our tendencies and even laugh about them.
If we focus on perfection in this area, we’re always going to feel discouraged or disappointed. When we can focus on progress, on the other hand, we might see the changes we’ve desired to see all along.
No Sidebar: In Your Soul
At the end of the day, fighting our tendency to people-please is an intensely personal and internal battle. It is our souls that are at risk. If we continually sacrifice who we are in order to please others, we risk losing the most valuable assets we have to offer.
Not to mention, we sacrifice our own personal happiness.
No one better to stress this point than Anne Lamott, a brilliant writer who never would have moved the hearts of millions with her words if she lived to please her audience or if she listened to her many “haters”. If you’re dealing with critics and haters of your own and it’s hitting your people-pleasing button, check out her manifesto.
It’s possible to find our own power and passion in spite of people-pleasing. It requires getting reacquainted with that self we’ve hidden, discovering our feelings and needs, and risking asserting and acting on them.
For further reading on happiness, read Becoming Minimalist’s post: How to Be Happy.