Do you regularly ignore your own work in response to others’ need for your assistance? Do you say “yes” to meetings that do more to fulfill someone else’s agenda instead of your own? While being a people pleaser may endear you to others in the short term, this behavior can be harmful to your career in the long run.
Clinical psychologist Erika Martinez says this people-pleasing behavior begins in childhood. “Children have an innate drive to please their caregivers because it ensures their needs will be met, and thus, their survival,” says Martinez. As children, we figured out what we needed to do or say to make the grown-ups in our lives happy. While some adults learn to disengage from this behavior, seeming not to care at all about what others think, others continue these people-pleasing behaviors by acquiescing to the needs of others in their lives.
By looking to the outside for validation, people pleasers tend to put aside their own ambitions. Saying “yes” to a request when you’re already over-extended with things on your own plate means you’re valuing someone else’s needs and wants, and leaving your own unattended to. “By pleasing others all the time, you fail to prioritize yourself and the things that are important to you,” says Martinez.
As a result, you may find yourself missing deadlines on your work, feeling overwhelmed constantly, taking on too many responsibilities, and feeling taken for granted or resentful.
Try these four strategies to stop curb your people-pleasing tendencies:
Recognize times when you are giving in to other people’s demands of you rather than taking control of your own time, and see if there’s a pattern. Are there certain scenarios or certain individuals where you are more likely to bend over backwards? Recognizing that you have a tendency to engage in people-pleasing behavior is the first step to changing the behavior.
Practice saying no
People pleasers often struggle to say the word “no.” The fear of not being liked, of losing friends or of disappointing others paralyzes them, making the word “no” seem like a swear word.
To practice saying “no,” Martinez suggests starting with small no’s, ones that don’t have any significant ramifications. Saying no to the cashier when asked if you want to purchase an add-on item, for example. Then start to say medium no’s, such as saying no to a friend who invites you out to coffee when you’re feeling overwhelmed with work or other responsibilities.
Make a list of situations that you struggle saying “no” to and work your way through the list, checking off each situation when you do say “no.”
Be assertive, yet courteous
Often saying “no” comes with feeling the need to offer a long explanation for disappointing the asker. Jonathan Alpert, Manhattan psychotherapist, performance coach, and author of Be Fearless: Change Your Life in 28 Days, suggests providing only a short explanation or none at all, adding that a polite “no” can help people pleasers to be assertive with their decision.
“Saying “I’m sorry I can’t right now but will let you know when and if I can,” is polite, and puts you in a position of power by changing the dynamic,” says Alpert. This approach lets the asker know that they are not the priority right now and gives you the ability and the permission to return at a time convenient to you, to either fulfill the ask, or to tell the asker that you aren’t able to do what they’re asking.
Evaluate your relationships
Examine the relationships you have with those you have trouble saying “no” to. Will you saying “no” to your sister mean that she’ll disown you and never come over for dinner again? Will saying “no” to a coworker who wants to pick your brain about something really mean that you won’t be able to have lunch together again? “When you understand the dynamic and your role, you won’t feel as worried about the consequences of saying no. You’ll realize that your relationships can withstand your saying no,” says Alpert.