Making Sense of Work with Jean Balfour

Ep. #62 Overcoming People Pleasing at Work

July 20, 2023 Jean Balfour Season 2 Episode 62
Making Sense of Work with Jean Balfour
Ep. #62 Overcoming People Pleasing at Work
Show Notes Transcript

Are you a people pleaser? Many people feel that they are better off keeping others happy - but it can have an impact on us in the long run.

People pleasers bring big strengths to work - often being people who can bring harmony to situations and being a great team player. 

But this can often happen at their own expense.

In this podcast Jean defines how she sees people pleasing and offers practical strategies for how to become more effective. 

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Hi everyone and welcome to making sense of Work. Are you a people pleaser? I certainly am. I've spent so much of my life noticing my capacity to please other people at the expense of myself. The challenge for me is that I'm someone who genuinely likes people and I want to help them. So it's been really hard to work out what was a natural good thing, a natural part of me, and what was agreeing or saying yes to things at my expense. I've worked hard on this over the years and I have become much more aware of the distinction. However, as a part of some training I've been doing recently, I've been revisiting my own people pleasing, and I can see how I've been working on it in my personal life. How it's much better in my personal life. I'm much more able to say what I think or what I want or what's good for me, but much less in my working life. And I notice that I haven't really focused on it so much there, and it has a lot of impact. I see myself saying yes to things that maybe I ought to be saying no to. I also noticed that some clients I work with and some students on our program are also suffering from this, not being able to ask for things or disagree or say no to something. So today I'm going to share with you a few aspects of people pleasing along with some practical ways of approaching your own. Desire to people, please. And of course, I will include some ideas for how to say no or no thanks to things that are not right for you. And even if you are not a people pleaser, there's a chance that you have people pleasers around you. So maybe some of the clues from our conversation today will help you think about how you can encourage them to say what's good and right for them. Before we dive into this, if you are at all curious about coach training and would like to learn more, you can now sign up for our free and on demand taster course Here. You get to see some of our materials and also watch a recording of one of our mentor coaching groups in action, and I'll put a link in the show notes to this. It would also be really great if you could rate and review the podcast growing. The impact of any podcast is partly dependent on your reviews, and I really appreciate your support. So let's get back to people pleasing. So what do we mean by people pleasing? For me, it, at its simplest, it's about putting others needs ahead of my own. It's not sharing my own thinking, my ideas, the options I have for things, and instead it's trying to work out what others want. And do that, and it sits on top of complex feelings and things that we've developed as we were growing up. It for me, it sits on a feeling that if I say what's good for me, I won't be liked, or maybe I'll get into trouble or clients won't work with me. In organizations, it was about will my boss give me a good or a poor performance rating and so on. But it's also had a good strategy because if I do what people ask, if I help everyone, if I agree with everyone, then in my mind I'll get on in the organization. I'll be successful because people will see me as somebody who's really supportive and helpful. But this doesn't always work, and it can be a bit problematic. For example, people are often promoted in organizations cause of their ability to show independent thinking, their ability to make decisions. So if people-pleasing can feel like we're looking for others' approval or we are just agreeing with others, we're not demonstrating that independent thinking. We can also feel like we are doing things to help. Others, but actually in the long term, it's not serving us because we may be seen as somebody who's not standing up for what we believe in and what we need to do. And maybe then we are not seen as senior leadership material. To make this point even stronger. There's quite a bit of research on teams, particularly senior leadership teams, that shows that the most successful teams have a lot of disagreement in them. They're arguing often. There's a particular study by Kaz and Bakkin Smith that shows this, and the people in these teams and these successful teams are certainly not caught up in. Pleasing each other because they see and they know that it's in the disagreement that we look for the best way forward. Because if we are people pleasing, we're assuming that one person knows best or we wanna believe or agree with them. And we know that the best decisions come out of many different views. So let's go back a bit and have a look at what we mean by people pleasing. As I've said, at its simplest, it's about putting others' needs ahead of your own, and this has really big upsides because when we are at our best people, pleasers are good at building and restoring relationships. We are good team players. We encourage harmony and empathy, and we like to help others. The downside is that we are really working to help. Make sure that everybody's happy with us and there's a fear of upsetting others. And this leads to a lack of assertiveness. I'm gonna talk about this in a bit more shortly. We're anxious to gain approval. We avoid confrontation, and as I've said, we put others needs ahead of our own. And this good reason behind why we develop strategies for doing this. There must be some reasons why we don't want the uncomfortable feelings with saying what's important for us, what matters to us. We have ultimately a fear of being criticized or rejected, and we do this because. For some of us as children, we learnt to please others because it might calm a situation down or we believe that we need to keep the emotional or practical needs of the parents. The adults around us met so that they're happy and we have a feeling of doing this to keep ourselves safe. But in the workplace work experiences that we have can also lead us to developing a tendency to keep everyone happy. Maybe we worked for a bully and became upset cause we needed to keep them happy. And so we decided that in the future we would keep all of our bosses happy, or many people who are made redundant become a bit fearful about this happening again. And so they. Become a bit risk averse. They want to keep the peace and not say what they think. It can also be linked to confidence, and this has certainly been a big link for me because this kind of link that if I'm not confident in myself, it's sort of easier if I make sure everybody likes me and then I will feel better about myself because I'll think that, so I don't feel strong and confident enough to say what I really think, to say what I really want. And cause of all of this people pleasing might actually help to keep others happy, and it can bring a short term impact of feeling positive as someone who helps and cares for others and does what they want, which of course, in and of itself is a good thing. But in my experience, when I do what others want over my own needs, then eventually I resent it or it doesn't go well because I didn't believe it. We might become overworked if we're always saying yes to projects, and that might lead us to not being able to deliver quality projects. It could also impact other areas of our working life, right? From our working conditions to not getting our voice heard. Maybe we are afraid to ask for a pay rise we know others got because we don't wanna upset our boss. or maybe we don't ask to leave early to pick up our daughter from school for fear of our colleagues being upset with us. So there's this fine line between doing things to help people because we want to and doing things to please people, to make sure they like us. And I can list many examples here where I've said yes to something where my gut said that I knew the answer was no, and it really has never served me. I can think of a couple of pieces of work where I wasn't the right person. To do the job. And people were sort of saying, yes, but please do it. We know you, we trust you. And of course, the work didn't go well. And actually it was really bad for me. It was bad for my confidence and it was bad for the client because they didn't get a good outcome. There's times when I've given my time for others, which left me with less time to work on the important projects that matter for me, and the list goes on. And so here I am, and here I'm encouraging you. To look for ways to become more aware of this and to look for ways to overcome it if it isn't serving you. So how can we do that? Well, firstly, we need to be compassionate towards ourselves first. People pleasers can be a bit prone maybe to being a bit harsh with ourselves, and this is a moment for really gentle and encouragement. We can acknowledge that this was a strategy that we developed that has worked well for us. It's got us here and we. For example, can see that we are the person who helps the team move forward through being kind. But we also need to see that it's not serving us. And so to start to do this, I think we can learn just simply to start noticing and naming the times you're doing it. Look proactively during the day. Don't change anything and just think, oh look, there I am, I'm. Saying yes when I mean no, or I'm not saying what I think, and maybe just jot them down. Become the observer around it. Notice the feelings that go with it. What are the feelings that you are avoiding? Is it discomfort? Is it a concern that people won't like you? Are you looking for their approval? And just gently encourage yourselves. See it. Notice and notice that your desires and requests in these situations are valid, that your thoughts and feelings are valid, and also that you probably can't control whether or not others approve. So, as I say, when you start, don't change anything. Just observe it and see how much it's going on in your life. There is a link to integrity here because the challenge of people pleasing is that we're so often not true to ourselves. We lie to others. Yes, I agree. I'm okay to do that whilst not being true and certainly not being true to ourselves. Martha Beck has written and talked a lot about her year of integrity, and this was a year where she made a commitment to herself to not lie about anything. She actually says she wouldn't recommend it, but. Becoming more and more and more aware of the areas in which we are lying to protect others, to protect ourselves, can help us to become more aware of our own integrity. It helps us to see ourselves as that confident in independent human being who has our own thoughts and ideas. And then the next step, of course, is to think about how do we share those. I've also learned that at this stage I can ask some questions to inquire into what's going on. So if I notice myself saying yes or. Something that I don't believe in, I can ask. So what's my motivation for doing this? What's, what is it that's meaning that I'm doing this at the moment so I can understand the drivers? Is it that I want to learn something from it? Am I genuinely wanting to help the other person, or am I doing it because I'm worried about what will happen if I share a different opinion or if I say no? And we can also ask ourselves during this inquiry, What is it costing me to keep saying yes and to keep agreeing to the other person? And then I suggest choosing a couple of areas in which you want to bring about some change and. Really see if you can do less people pleasing in these situations. Don't choose a a lot and choose a couple of places that you think it might be relatively easy to change. So maybe it's at work and it's about, uh, deciding to share an opinion about something that you disagree on, but with somebody you already have a good relationship with. Choose something that's going to be not really scary. This is not about saying no to the ceo right out from the. Gate. And then we can think about assertiveness. When I first started as a trainer, one of the first areas I trained in was assertiveness. And over the last couple of years, I've been really coming back to assertiveness theory because I can see how helpful it is, and particularly in this situation of people pleasing. So I want to just pull out a couple of. Um, concepts from assertiveness theory that can help us to think about how we approach this. When we're thinking about assertiveness, we start with this idea that we all have rights and we have responsibilities. So, for example, we have the right to share our opinion and we have a responsibility to listen to the other's opinion. So we can do this with respect, we can do it with honesty, with gentleness, however we do it. But we have a right to share our opinion. And we have a responsibility to listen to the others. We have a right to say no to things that for us are inappropriate requests. We have the right to ask for things that are good for us and so on. Underpinning all of this is the idea that whatever our rights are, come with clear responsibilities that see that the other person also has rights, and this leads us to seeing assertiveness as win win. It's about saying, I'm okay and you are okay. So how can we go about dealing with this situation and looking for a win-win resolution? So for example, when I'm don't feel strong and confident in myself and I say yes to something that I don't want, I'm essentially saying I'm not. Okay. You win. So, I lose you win. And when I agree with something that I actually disagree within this maid, I'm negating myself. I'm saying, you are better than me. You have better opinions than me. And I'm saying I'm not okay. You are okay. So as I've said, we need to be really careful about and aware of the fact that the other person has rights. So we don't want to go. I'm okay. I'm right. You are not Okay. Because that is moving towards aggression and we are moving for win-win. So we are looking for I'm okay. You are okay. When I have the courage to say what I want, I also have the courage to hear what you want and to know that this might be different from I wants, needs, thoughts, and that we can look for a mutual way forward. As I said, I suggest you start with a couple of low-ish. Risk situations, maybe with a colleague or maybe a small situation. You want to start and then think about what you want and think about what they might want, and then prepare and practice. Prepare, prepare, prepare. Think about going into it and practice using some of the techniques I'm about to share, even in front of the mirror. And while you are preparing and practicing, notice how you feel. Notice all those uncomfortable feelings. Perhaps the feeling of, oh, what's gonna happen if I say what I think and just make room for them. See them, name them. Notice them. They may not go away. You may even be quite nervous going into conversations where you are going to say what it is you want, but just allow that to be, it's part of our humanity. And here are some practical ways to approach it. First, as a people pleaser, use your natural empathy tendency to acknowledge the other person. Let them know that you've heard their request, you know where they're coming from. Start with something that acknowledges who they are. And what they want and maybe even, I think it's okay to apologize, to say, I'm sorry to ask this, or I know you have a lot on, or I'm really sorry that I'm going to say no to this. Like know that you want me to do it. I don't have a problem with apologizing. I think that is a good thing to do. Making I statements will help you. So we want to own what it is that we are wanting and what it is that we think. And we don't wanna make it about the other person. We don't want you statements. So we want to stay with I statements. We want to say, I would like to leave early on Thursday as my daughter has a music exam and I'd like to support her. I know this might leave the team a bit tight. I'm happy to cover on Wednesday and allow. Somebody else to leave early, maybe that day. I'm not saying you should give me permission to leave on Thursday. I'm saying I would like it. With all of this, we want to follow on with an explanation of saying why it's important to us. If you want to say no to something, again, we want to acknowledge the other person, give them a win, see them for who they are, and then share our reason for not being able to do it. And you might want to, uh, practice a few of these, come up with a few ways of saying this. So for example, thanks for asking me to do this. Unfortunately I have a large number of commitments at the moment and I'm unable to take it on or, um, thanks for inviting me. For dinner. We as a family are spending Thursday evenings together, and it's really important for me that I do that. Now, if it's your boss, you can still do this, but what you might want to do with your boss is engage in a conversation about what's possible to move out of your schedule. So by saying, I have a lot on, I have these other commitments. I don't have the space for this piece of work at the moment. If it's really important for you that I do it, can we look together at which of my commitments can be deprioritized? Sharing the value can help you in sharing what's important to you and saying what you think you can say If somebody comes with a request, I appreciate this needs to happen. For me, it's really important that I get to be with my kids for dinner in the evenings. It's a part of the commitment I make to my family. You might consider a compromise at this point. I'm happy to come online again at nine for half an hour to see if I can help you. Disagreement and confrontation can feel really hard. So if you want to disagree with someone, again, acknowledge their view. Thanks for sharing your perspective on this. I have a slightly different perspective I'd like to share. So again, acknowledge the other person. Share what it is that you are thinking. If somebody comes to you with a request or sharing a very strong opinion and you're really not happy with it, but you're finding it very hard in the moment to say no, then let them know that you'll get back to them. Buy yourself some time and give them a reasonable timeline for this. Say, oh, thanks, uh, give some time to think about it. I'll get back to you within an hour tomorrow, whatever's realistic. And you can always get back to them via chat and email. If you feel too nervous to talk about it, you can send a message. You don't have to talk it through, and that might help you to feel less heated and feel okay about it. So in all of this, I encourage you to start small. Treat it like building muscles. We don't go for the 10 kg weights when we could start with a one kg. Choose low risk situations in which you're going to slowly. Build up your capacity to say more about what's important to you. Choose one situation or one person and make a conscious decision to change this. And as you are doing this, remember to be kind to yourself. See, this is a big change. It won't happen overnight. It will take time, but it is possible for us to make this change and to take more care of ourselves.