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How To Fight Your Inner “People Pleaser” At Work

11th May 2017

We all are social beings driven by the innate desire to belong, connect and identify with with others. So what could possibly be wrong with wanting to be helpful, kind and caring? It sounds like a simple question with a simple answer.

Yet being a people pleaser, who is constantly nice to everybody, can play havoc with your confidence, affect your wellbeing, harm your relationships and damage your career prospects.

So, how do you know if you suffer from the disease to please? And more importantly, what can you do to reclaim your confidence, happiness and sense of self?

Am I A People Pleaser? The 3 second Test

Ask yourself this simple question.

When you’re asked to help, to stay late, to do more work, to work at the weekend or to take on extra responsibilities, do you say yes because –

  1. You want to say yes and you feel good about saying yes?


  1. You say yes because you would feel guilty if you said no?

If your answer is the latter, you are a people pleaser. You put the needs of others before your own even when you don’t want to.

Now ask yourself – Do you find it impossible to say no without a dizzying feeling of guilt? Do you worry that by saying ?No? others will see you as lazy, selfish, uncaring, egocentric or unlikeable? If you don’t do what you are asked, are you worried you might end up getting the cold shoulder, feeling isolated or being left out?

We are all guilty of people pleasing at one time or another. However, we are often unaware of the effect it can have on us. It can leave us feeling overstretched, underappreciated, worried, anxious and upset. Our energy resources are depleted and we’re not progressing in our career the way we had hoped. We look on as others say No, please only themselves, still get the promotion, leave on time every day and the boss notices when they do something extra.

So, the time has come for you to cleanse yourself of the disease to please. By taking small daily steps you gradually break the habit and reclaim your confidence, improve your wellbeing and bolster your happiness. Start with these four tips:

Check in with yourself

Every morning commit to paper three work based tasks, activities or projects that you need to complete before home time. These are your VIT’s (Very Important Tasks). They are vital to your role and doing these things well means you do your job well. Remind yourself that this is not selfish. It is a practical career progression strategy that helps you move forward in your career.

Catch yourself thinking

If your default answer is ?Yes?, or some variation of it, because you hate to upset others, it’s time to catch yourself at the thinking stage. The next time a colleague asks for a favour or wants your help – press pause on your automatic response to say ?Yes?. Stop. Pause. Think. Say something like, ?Let me get back to you on that? or ?I’ll have a think about it.? Go to your daily tasks and evaluate where you are at with your own work. If you still have work to do, say ?I’d love to help but I can’t at the moment.? People pleasing is a lifelong habit that is hard to break but by preparing for it and rehearsing it, it becomes easier.

No is a complete sentence

If you decide to say ?No?, remember ?No? is a complete sentence. It is a standalone concept that does not need to be followed by a litany of excuses. Excuses only offer an opportunity for you to be pressured into changing your mind. If you can say ?No? and then stop talking – amazing. If you don’t feel comfortable saying No, try saying ?Not on this occasion?, or ?I’d love to help but I am up to my eyes?, and then immediately change the subject to the weather, the weekend, or anything you can think of that doesn’t relate to the original question. Remember the first No will always be the hardest but once you get it out there, it will get easier.

Don’t let guilt be your guide

If you say yes to every request that comes across your desk, even when you already have plenty to do, it’s time for self-reflection. What is your primary motivation to help? Is it because you want to help or is it because you will feel guilty if you don’t? If guilt is your primary motivation to saying ?Yes?, it’s time to take stock. If you say ?Yes? and it means that you don’t get your own work done, that you have to stay late or some other knock on effect, it’s only a matter of time before it affects your wellbeing.

So, as that feeling urge to please emerges – Stop. Pause. Think.

Remember, you have a choice. If you can help, do, ?but if you are helping even though you don’t want to or simply cannot it’s time to fight your inner people pleaser.

By Sinead Brady


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