A desire to make others happy sounds like an admirable trait. It can feel good to help someone out, right? But being a people pleaser can be troublesome when you’re reacting out of habit without an awareness or choice in the moment, says Susanne Conrad, author of Get There Now: Transform Yourself and the World Through Laughter, Listening, and the Power of Choice.
“I love to please people, but I love to have it be from an alignment,” she says. “It shouldn’t be because I don’t have my own identity, I’m lost, or I’m in survival mode and need to fit in. If you’re not listening to where you actually need to go in life, it can be because you are people-pleasing.”
Recognizing the Fine Line
The first step to stop being a people pleaser is to recognize that you’re doing it. People-pleasing is sacrificing a choice you would make for yourself to serve someone else’s priorities. Unfortunately, it can be a hard habit to recognize and break because you might be in self-denial of your own needs and unable to bring a voice to them.
Conrad suggests considering something she calls the line of choice. “Below the line, we’re in reaction. And above it, we’re in choice,” she explains. “When you’re in the moment about to go please somebody, ask yourself, ‘Am I in choice, or am I doing it out of habit or default?’ Is it a case of feeling I should do this because it’s what I’ve always done it and it’s what the other person thinks I should do?”
Reframe the Situation
To move into choice, it can help to shift your mindset. “Instead of trying to please the person or the personality, please the purpose,” Conrad says. “Ask yourself, ‘What’s the higher purpose?’ If you are a person who can consistently reflect the truth and serve the purpose, even when it might not be pleasing, you become valuable and that feels good.”
For example, if a coworker asks for your help on a project, a people pleaser would say yes because they want to serve the person, even if it meant they didn’t get their own work done. However, if you are aligned with the purpose of the project, offering your talents could lead to a better outcome, which can be fulfilling.
“If you know that person’s purpose, vision, and values, then you can meet them on that high road,” Conrad says. “This form of pleasing is better than placating a personality issue.”
What to Do When You’re Not Aligned with the Purpose
A danger of being a people pleaser is when you support someone’s weakness to the degree that it actually holds them back. “Think of the teachers or the people who have mentored you,” Conrad says. “It’s the people who are there for a higher purpose and not to placate your personality who help you grow. Standing for people and their possibilities and purpose is powerful and is way more rewarding.”
These conversations can be difficult to navigate. When you’re not willing to do what someone else wants or you disagree with their point of view, Conrad suggests starting the conversation by saying, “May I offer something that could contribute? The key words,” she says, “are, May I. If what I have to say doesn’t help, though, I’m not going to impose my opinion on you because that’s only going to make you more defensive.”
If you’re tempted to look the other way as a form of people-pleasing, Conrad suggests reconnecting with the purpose.
“One of my clients is head of a large system of restaurants, and he knew that he needed to fire one of his executives, and yet he just didn’t,” Conrad says. “Essentially he was people-pleasing. Once he aligned with the purpose and realized how many people were getting damaged by his avoidance and how the company was suffering, he was able to find the courage to deal with his discomfort. Truth is what feels great. People-pleasing is more like that ‘feel good’ you get from eating a bunch of candy. It’s temporary and aches later.”
Awareness is the most important thing, Conrad concludes, noting, you can “shift the language from ‘I am a people pleaser’ to ‘I am aware of a pattern, and I’m making new choices to change for the benefit of everyone.'”