Podcast Episode 39: How Misusing Your Strengths Can Lead to People Pleasing

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It’s human nature to want to please and be of service to others and it can be helpful for your career advancement and make you a star employee. But people-pleasing is when you have an unhealthy need to put others’ needs before your own–the result is manipulation and a lot of stress. In this episode we’ll discuss:  

  • Where people pleasing comes from
  • Why people pleasing is compulsive, manipulative and stressful
  • The two styles of people pleasing
  • How to spot your own people pleasing
  • How mis-using your strengths can lead to people pleasing
  • Get clear on the negative impact people pleasing does to your career
  • Tips on how to stop people pleasing 

When you stop thinking about your own feelings and desires over time you think about them even less. If you are spending all your time worrying about everyone else’s happiness, negotiating, and serving others, advocating doing it for yourself can feel odd. 

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Read the Transcript
Hey there and welcome back to the career refresh podcast. I am your host, Jill Griffin.

Thanks for your continued feedback on how helpful this podcast has been. It’s why I do it.

This week I want to talk about people pleasing. 

Sounds lovely, right? 

We may have been raised with a mindset of doing good for others and helping out others. 

And that is a lovely way to be. It can give you an advantage professionally, you can be known as the dedicated employee, the rockstar. The person who could ‘fix’ teams, wrangle clients, be the diplomat and the deal whisperer, and who gets it done. For many, it feels great to be recognized that way, it was a big part of your personal brand.   

For many women, pleasing people is a trait that is gender normative but it’s not an exclusively female trait, I work with many men who identify as people pleasers.  

People pleasing is often described in different ways. I like to think of it as simply putting others’ needs before yourself to the detriment of yourself.  It’s an unhealthy focus on everybody else’s needs before your own with diminishing returns. 

People pleasing at the core is self-abandonment.Somewhere in your life you learned the rules and understood the rewards if you followed the rules. The conflict starts because somewhere along your journey you followed the rules but the you didn’t get the reward. So you worked harder. And harder. And only after doing or pleasing others an extraordinary amount did you get the reward. So now the bar was raised. And here begins the cycle. 

I see 2 main types of people pleasers in my work with 100s of clients over the last few years. 

One is very visible other other is less so. 

The first is the over-achiever that’s big, loud, they are on every committee, they leverage their strengths of WOO or win over others and the need for Significance, they are a force in the organization. They are probably well known to their industry. In order to thrive you need an appreciate audience who will bring out your best. 

In high school you would have called this person the brown-noser, referring to the people pleaser who has the nose so far up the teachers butt, that there is a little brown stuff on their nose, but its all in an effort to get good marks. 

If you are the win over others or significance type, the blind spot might be that you are mis-useing your strengths. You are confused about your value as an employee. You think that your value is to solve every problem and make every connection. 

With an emphasis on EVERY. So you dig in, you find the problem, you solve it, but you need validation from others in order to feel satisfied and valued. 

You want to solve the problem so that others say words to validate you. you need other ppl to think good things of you so I can think good about yourself. 

When you do get the feedback, you do more. Putting you on an endless cycle of over-doing just to get positive feedback. You are very concerned with your reputation and success. 

You become clingy and annoying and you are always trying to make yourself look good and you may even step on others in order to do so

You try to be proactive and anticipate others’ needs. You try to read their minds. You think you know what they need to hear. You say what you think they want to hear. You anticipate their reaction to what you might say. 
over-working to get the credit, 
Always jumping in for extra work so you look good
Not answering honestly when you don’t know so that you look good 
Solve for impossible variables… 
You want to do enough but not too much
You want to be strong but not too strong
You’ll definitely want to be outgoing and friendly but not overbearing 
You’ll have to be firm but don’t alienate others, you’ll leak out your opinions so that you 
are not in a misalignment and hopefully if you do all of this people will be pleased with you and like you. For people pleasers we often want to solve a problem so that others are ok with us.

The problem here is the Burnout – You exhaust yourself by trying to become a Mindreader. You are always thinking what do they want from me but you are not responding to specific asks or directions.  

This style of PP is often fixed with giving yourself what you need first, taking a personal victory lap and getting comfortable with being uncomfortable. 

You are not going to please everyone. I find that asking yourself, does it need to be said, does it need to be said by me, and does it need to be said by me right now is an incredibly powerful tool to right sizing your people pleasing, giving yourself what you need and making room for others. 

The other is the quiet worker. is driven by their strengths of responsibility and being deliberative. 

They keeps doing and delivering. Driven by the over-use of their strength of Responsibility, they work weekends because they feel a psychological ownership of the work. 
They rarely given a raise or a promotion but if they ever left they would need to be replaced with 4 people. The middle managers know the value of this person but the ELT is often dismissive of this person and focuses on the more dynamic people pleaser

You unconsciously decided that your own growth isn’t to make everyone happy so you take a back seat. 
You may shrink yourself as the way of fitting in. 
You say yes to an impossible deadline without trying to re-negotiate, 
Taking on more responsibility than you can comfortably manage because you don’t want to disappoint someone.
Remaining quiet in group settings in order to maintain harmony, despite having thoughts, opinions, or other information you want to share with the other members.
Being afraid to ask for bigger opportunities, raises, promotions; Not speaking openly about your career goals and trajectory with colleagues and management. 

This style of people pleasing is often fixed by getting clear in your boundaries, time management protocols and your non-negotiables. 

Both styles have a deep need to be liked and validated. That need to be liked sometimes conflates being liked with their own self worth. If they are not liked they are Worth-LESS

There’s nothing wrong with wanting to please others, it’s when it becomes compulsive. People pleasers have the compulsive need to be liked. They go to great lengths to avoid conflict, they are often classified as “positive” or cheery, they go to great lengths to control the narrative of how they are viewed and that’s the compulsion. 

It’s natural to become frustrated or angry at work. People pleaser have a need to control and frankly repress their “negative” emotions. And it the fight, flight, freeze, or fawn, the people pleaser is the fawn. The people pleasers will often try to assuage those around them. 

People pleasers can have a high level of empathy. Empathy is a superpower strength when used productively can read the room, and help others express what they are feeling. I’ve seen empathy aid marginalized voices be heard and seen providing much needed diversity of thought to a challenge. 

The compulsion is when the people pleaser starts to guess your emotions and clean up the situation before most have even had time to respond thus taking away their agency. It’s a fine line. For the people pleaser, you need to check if you are exhausted by all this effort? Are you being true to your needs or are you acting, playing the chameleon so that others like you or give you opportunities. The problem is that when you hang around a people pleaser long enough it’s wearing. You start to question, how can they always be so positive, so helpful, and so adept? 
It also pushes people away because if you are always helping others, no one thinks that you might need help. And we all need help at times. 

When you stop thinking about your own feelings and desires over time you think about them even less. If you are spending all your time worrying about everyone else’s happiness, negotiating, and serving others, advocating doing it for yourself can feel odd. 

Here are a few tips for tackling your people pleaser

Identify the need you want met. So many of us just need to feel safe/belong/security/love. 
Identify the powerful uncomfortable emotion – You need to say something to a client or a colleague but you’re afraid to say it. Fear. frustration, vulnerable, what is it? 
Breathe. Pause. Give yourself space. Observe yourself with compassion. Bathroom stalls, Stairway halls and now shut video walls
Get clear on your needs. Revisit your reasons for the need. 
Decide what to do and what not to do  – boundaries
Breathe have compassion for yourself. Awareness creates change. 

Ok my friends. If you are looking for support I’d love to be your coach. I am launching a career strengths program that will help you leverage your strengths, increase confidence and visibility and help create whats next for you. I’ll put the link to get on the information list in the show notes. 

HAve a great week and I will see you next time.