What are people pleasers?
This term “people pleaser” wasn’t even part of my vocabulary until I became a coach and many of my clients used this label to describe themselves. When we observe a pattern of behavior and turn it into a label, or even worse, an identity, we go deeper into powerlessness. For that reason, until today I had never written about this. I don’t like the disempowering label. But… it’s so pervasive that I have to share with you what I have learned over the years.
Most of the higher ed. leaders I have coached who labeled themselves as people pleasers were delightful to work with, because not only did they do their best to reach their goals for themselves, but they also wanted me to be happy with the results we created together. They were outstanding at taking responsibility, doing their part, having integrity and always being respectful and appreciative. They were extraordinary team players.
So, what’s the problem?
Their need to please others came at a great cost. Here are some common examples. People pleasers typically lack boundaries and have a hard time saying no. They tend to put other people’s desires before their own which causes them excessive workloads and too many sacrifices. Why? Because they want everyone to be happy. Not only that, they enjoy being the reason that other people are happy.
Consciously or not, pleasing others is a way to receive appreciation, feel valued, and get validation and approval. Pleasers need to be needed. It makes them feel important and gives them purpose. That’s why they can’t simply decide to stop caring about what other people think and simply focus on their own goals and desires. Pleasers need to please!
They also often want to be liked and accepted by everyone. If someone doesn’t like them, it causes them tremendous pain and they may start doubting their self-worth. I hope you can see how giving so much power to other people is dangerous!
How to break the addiction to pleasing
On the surface, pleasing looks like a selfless and generous act. But deep down, the person is looking for acceptance and reassurance that he/she is enough or is looking at other people’s behavior as condition for their own happiness. In order to feel good, pleasers need to make others feel good. Here is how to stop.
1. Examine your beliefs, question old ideas, and realize that the need to please is not a virtue.
2. Pay attention to what this pattern of behavior is costing you (e.g. too much work, stress, unhappiness, frustration, or lack of clarity on goals and priorities) and the implications (e.g. lack of self-care, weight gain, fatigue, less time with loved ones).
3. Realize that you can very well continue to honor and live according to your values (e.g. integrity, dedication, excellence, and caring) without being attached to pleasing others.
4. Define clear standards and metrics that you will hold yourself accountable to reach, so that you can find comfort in knowing that you are doing the right things and you are doing enough.
5. Make a promise to yourself that you will start giving the appreciation and validation you need, instead of relying on others to give it to you.
6. Identify what you can do (and will do) to make you feel important, successful, and valuable, so that you meet your own needs through your own actions rather than people’s reactions to what you do.
7. Continue to nurture relationships and human connections because it’s an essential part of life but do it without handing your personal power to other people.
If you’re still hesitant to change, please start observing the pain you feel when you can’t be satisfied because other people are unreasonable or even mean-spirited. Pay attention to when you become a target for abuse because you are easy to manipulate. Consider the possibility that some people will not think of you as a leader because you are too easily influenced by others, and they may go as far as losing respect for you. This stings! I know! I don’t like giving tough love but that’s what it takes to find the courage to change.
It’s time to step up to a higher level of self-confidence and leadership if you worry too much about what people think or if you fear uncomfortable situations. Pleasers dislike disagreements and often shy away from difficult conversations that are essential in their jobs (e.g. addressing unsatisfactory employee’s performance, advocating for money and other resources, working with people who are overpowering, or negotiating with the unions).
Trying to avoid discomfort creates more pain than facing our fears. I invite you to find your voice, own your worth, set your own standards, and make yourself happy! Don’t worry so much about other people’s feelings because it’s not your responsibility. Continue to be a good person and do what you know is right, but don’t be attached to how people react. Having a clear conscience is enough.
Put yourself first, so that you can feel your best, and you’ll have more strength and energy to serve your campus community. Only the people who want to use you will be unhappy about the changes you’re making. Those of value you will be proud of you and happy for you. So, remember, be pleasant but don’t be a pleaser.
If you would like to work with me on leadership development in higher education administration, click here to schedule a complimentary call. We’ll discuss how I can help you change old patterns, feel better, and become an even more inspirational leader.
About the author: Dr. Audrey Reille has empowered thousands of professionals through one-on-one coaching, group coaching, speaking engagements, online courses, and interviews on international telesummits.Audrey is the go-to coach for leaders in higher education administration. She empowers them to thrive by reducing stress, optimizing strategies, improving professional relationships, and developing a strong and empowered mindset.