Jill Lynch Cruz
Do you Have the Disease to Please? 5 Ways It’s Holding You Back
Are you a chronic people-pleaser? Do you think being overly agreeable and accommodating will improve your relationships? People-pleasing isn't about being nice. It's about wanting to be liked. Here are five ways it may be holding you back and how to assert your authentic and powerful self.
Are you too nice? Consider how often you do the following:
Say “yes” to requests even when you don’t want to
Put other people’s needs and priorities before your own
Don’t stand up for yourself when challenged
Don’t speak up when you disagree
Go to great lengths to avoid confrontation or conflict
Many of us confuse people-pleasing with being nice. Yet, people-pleasing isn't about being accommodating, agreeable, or helpful because you have a genuine interest in serving others. It’s about needing to be liked.
As people-pleasers, we yearn for acceptance and approval as a measure of our self-worth.
Our fear of disappointing others compels us to put others’ needs ahead of our own. We avoid doing or saying anything that could be viewed as disagreeable, challenging, or argumentative. Yet, ultimately, we disappoint ourselves by not prioritizing our own values and goals.
Why Women Struggle with People Pleasing
It’s not surprising many women attorneys and leaders struggle with people-pleasing tendencies, given how expectations to be pleasant and agreeable are baked into our social identities. Our need to play nice with others is further reinforced by the “double-bind dilemma” women leaders encounter. That is, to be successful, we must be assertive, competent, and well-liked.
People-pleasing is a destructive form of self-armor that gets in the way of you showing up as your most authentic and powerful self. Instead of asserting your needs, you adopt a submissive stance in your relationships with others. But underneath the surface, people-pleasers often feel taken advantage of. This leads to resentment and even anger because your "niceness" isn't always appreciated or reciprocated.
How to Overcome the Disease to Please
If people-pleasing is holding you back from asserting your authentic self, here are five ways it may be showing up for you and strategies to reclaim your full power and potential:
1. You Are Overly Accommodating
Over the past year, Karen's disorganized colleague routinely asks her to work late or through the weekend to help him meet his deadlines. She is annoyed and inconvenienced by these eleventh-hour requests. Yet, without voicing her frustration, she ultimately rearranges her schedule to accommodate him.
People pleasers often have difficulty setting healthy boundaries with others. Our desire to avoid disappointing others can cause us to say "yes" to requests that don’t serve us. This tendency to overly accommodate others’ needs and priorities often leaves us feeling stressed, overcommitted, and overwhelmed.
How to Establish Healthy Boundaries: Karen can prioritize her own needs by establishing appropriate boundaries around her availability. The best approach is to be direct and unapologetic about how her colleague’s frequent and rushed requests are unacceptable. While Karen may still feel some guilt about not coming to his rescue, she must respect her own boundaries so others will too: “Unfortunately, I can't help you with these last-minute requests. In the future, I'll need advanced notice.”
2. You Don’t Negotiate for Yourself
A newly minted partner, Jen, requests origination credit for a client she recently brought to her firm. She faces pushback from one of her senior partners, who adamantly claims full credit because of his supervisory role. Not wanting to ruffle his feathers, she quickly cedes to his demands without negotiation.
Many of us settle for less than we should in our careers because we don’t advocate for what we want and deserve. Even when it’s expected and justified. We fear being perceived as disagreeable or confrontational will strain our relationships and negatively impact our future career opportunities.
How to Negotiate for Yourself: A willingness to negotiate for yourself is critical to getting what is deservedly yours. It also enhances your respect and power in these relationships. The key is to be assertive and confident about the negotiated issue while demonstrating appreciation and respect for the other person. In the dispute regarding origination credit, Jen can acknowledge her partner’s supervisory role while being steadfast in her demand for a more equitable distribution of credit.
3. You Apologize When Making Requests
Daniela has important matters to discuss with her boss but senses he’s too busy. She asks, "I'm so sorry to bother you, but can we meet when you have a minute?”
People pleasers tend to over apologize if they think others will be irritated or inconvenienced by their requests. However, prefacing legitimate requests with apologies makes you appear less confident and diminishes your authority and effectiveness.
How to Be More Direct: Instead of signaling that your request is somehow inappropriate or bothersome by apologizing, try a more direct approach: “There are a few important matters that need your attention. Please let me know when you have 20 minutes to discuss."
4. You Don’t Speak Up When You Disagree
Recently I found myself in a heated discussion with a close friend on a controversial topic (politics and religion). My friend accurately pointed out how I was unwilling to take a stand on an issue important to me. Up until that point, I hadn't realized how often I've kept quiet to keep the peace. It wasn't my lack of opinion on the issue that kept me silent but my desire to avoid potential conflict and disagreement.
The fear of someone being upset with us is often at the root of people-pleasing behavior. However, a difference of opinion between people is natural and often results in better outcomes. Furthermore, if a relationship can't withstand a disagreement, it's probably not that healthy anyway.
How to Speak Up: It takes courage to speak up when you disagree, even when you have a strong conviction on the matter. But speaking up for yourself doesn't have to be challenging or aggressive. You can acknowledge and respect others' views while also offering your own: “I can appreciate your point of view on this issue, here’s mine.”
5. You Don’t Prioritize Your Needs
Tina’s colleagues frequently plan late-night get-togethers to socialize and network with potential clients. These business development opportunities are essential to her career but inconvenient as a single mother with two small children. Rather than share her preference for an earlier meeting time, Tina goes with the flow because she doesn't want to appear high maintenance.
How to Assert Yourself and Your Needs: Reluctance to assert our preferences for fear of appearing difficult or demanding is a common people-pleasing tendency. However, by not voicing our desires, we diminish our agency and subordinate ourselves to the wants and needs of others.
Tina can offer alternative plans reflecting her preferences while accommodating those of her colleagues: "I'd love to join you all for appetizers. I’m happy to make a 5:30 reservation at that new restaurant we’ve talked about trying.”
Is People Pleasing Holding You Back?
Is your need to be liked keeping you from being your most powerful and authentic self? If so, consider how the cost of people-pleasing is compromising yourself, your values, and even your career.
Undoubtedly, people-pleasing is hard to overcome but possible with increased awareness and a little effort. Next time you feel inclined to "go along to get along," discern if this is your desire to be collaborative and flexible, or more about your fear of others’ disappointment and disapproval. If the issue is important to you, consider a win-win approach to address your needs while honoring theirs.
Do you want to show up more authentically and powerfully in your interactions with others? If so, please reach out to me to learn how I can help. You are also welcome to schedule a 30-min consultation call with me to learn how coaching can help you "get out of your own way" so you can achieve your goals and realize your full potential.
Jill Lynch Cruz, PhD, PCC, GCDF, SPHR
Executive Coach & Career Development Facilitator
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