Why people pleasing is bad for you

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There are many behaviours which derail us from being the best we can be – at work or in relationships or life in general.  They include behaviours such as perfectionism, procrastination, cynicism and people-pleasing.

Of all of them, the impact of people-pleasing is most underestimated.  I often hear people say, in a jokey tone of voice: “Oh, you know me, I'm such a people pleaser!” I even say it myself sometimes.  But it isn’t funny.

People pleasing can be seriously detrimental to our lives, our relationships, our careers and our health.

If you are reading this you will probably already know if you have people-pleasing tendencies but in case you are not sure, here are some indicators:

  • You avoid conflict at all costs
  • You hate upsetting people and often feel responsible for other people’s happiness
  • You don’t really know what you want or how you feel about things – you would rather fit in with others
  • You find it difficult to say “No”
  • You say “sorry” a lot (even when someone steps on YOUR toe!)
  • You feel guilty a lot of the time
  • You feel like people walk all over you
  • You find yourself agreeing to things you don’t really want to do and then you let people down at the eleventh hour because you never really wanted to do it anyway

The impact of people-pleasing on you and others is:

  • You can be a target of manipulation
  • You can be overlooked for promotion and left to do the work nobody else wants to do
  • You end up feeling resentful and behaving in a passive/aggressive way with others
  • You may experience stress or exhaustion or other health problems
  • People can feel confused and not know where they stand with you
  • You have no time for yourself and are always over-committed

In the course of my coaching career I have heard the following confessions from people-pleasers (some mildly amusing and others with serious consequences):

  • A workshop participant admitted to having married three men she didn’t love – simply because they asked her and she couldn’t say no
  • A client worked in a team where they celebrated her birthday on the wrong day (completely different month) for 12 years because she couldn’t bring herself to tell them
  • A surgeon just couldn’t bring himself to deliver bad news and got into the habit of giving optimistic prognoses when that was not always the case

There are some simple steps you can take to begin to change the people-pleasing habits of a lifetime:

  • Learn to buy yourself some time when faced with a request. Avoid your usual knee-jerk “yes” and offer to come back with an answer when you have given it proper thought
  • Practice saying “No” without apology or excessive explanations or “padding"
  • Before entering discussions or negotiations, think what outcome you want
  • Take some time to decide what you want and what you think about things. What would YOU like to eat for dinner this evening?  What do YOU think about an item on the news?
  • Consider the cost to you of your people-pleasing behaviours. Are the costs worth the benefits of being “liked”?
  • Smile a bit less. Practice delivering statements in a more serious tone of voice
  • Ask yourself “What am I assuming that makes me want to please others?”

Learning to be less of a people-pleaser and becoming more assertive doesn’t mean that you will never help others or that you will say No to everything.  It does mean that you will make choices about what you do and don’t do, your relationships will be more honest and less complicated and your self-esteem will be enhanced.

But don’t just do it because I have asked you to…!

Kim Morgan

CEO, Barefoot Coaching Ltd

With 25 years’ experience working in the coaching industry, I have seen what it takes to create great leaders, engaged individuals, successful teams and outstanding organisations. I believe in the power of coaching for everyone, from CEOs to parents and families. I am a practicing coach, trainer of coaches and coaching supervisor, a keynote speaker, an author and Psychologies Magazine columnist.