Why we fall into the trap of people pleasing

Photo by Anna Dziubinska on Unsplash

t’s nice to be liked – We want our family, peers and friends to like us. But what if we are spending so much time on wanting to be liked that we’re not listening to what we truly want?

People pleasing is ingrained in us. From a young age, we want to please our parents, who ultimately decide what we are allowed to do and not allowed to do. They feed, bathe and care for us. At school, we want to be in the ‘good books’ of teachers. As we get a little older, this then gets replaced by wanting to fit in with our peers. All of this is looking to please others.

Our behaviour becomes focused around how we can make other people like us. This is to the detriment of what we believe, or want to do. Nearly everyone has some experience around wanting to make friends at school. The idea of being solitary was labelled as being a ‘loser’, and the idea of sitting alone at the lunch table was filled with inconceivable dread.

So what do we do? We scan the crowd. We see what expectations people have. We do our best to fit in and follow the mould. This is what people pleasing looks like. Our own individuality suffers.

The issue is that we carry this behaviour into our working lives. As employees, we place great importance on being liked, so that we can be seen to be ‘one of the team’. The relationship between employee and boss ends up mimicking that of parent and child, or teacher and student. We do as we are instructed, and our aim is to make the other person happy.

This leads to some odd behavioural phenomena. Instead of saying what we think, we say what we think the other person wants to hear. Even say when we are absolutely miserable because of the amount of work we are being given, we spend most of our time worrying about how if we raised our voice we would cause a fuss for our manager. This means we end up not even speaking up until we hit breaking point. The idea of speaking up moreover creates great social anxiety.

The issue of people pleasing is that it takes away our own agency. We no longer follow what we believe and feel, but instead work based upon our estimation of what others believe and feel. For us as individuals, it’s no wonder why many of us can feel like we are not listened to. It is also an issue where an employee can fall into the trap of focusing more about what will be most comfortable for themselves and their team, rather than what is right for the collective whole. It’s why we see so many companies take easy decisions on complicated subjects.

A common example is managerial feedback. Pretty much every survey says that managers do not give enough feedback to their staff. And when they do, it tends to be flimsy, and not particularly substantiated. Managers do not feel comfortable giving honest, rounded feedback. It’s uncomfortable to sit in front of someone and highlight areas where they can improve. This means that many managers simply avoid doing it. The funny thing about this example is that the manager is actually the one in power. Yet even then, the experience of telling someone something they might not want to hear is one we avoid.

The biggest issue with people pleasing is that it reduces our power as human beings. Since we are no longer following our own internal compass. We start to mistrust what we think, and rely on the opinion of others to guide us. It’s why we ask others for constant advice on life decisions, rather than figuring out what we really want.

We also become less effective – rather than doing what is right, we do what is easy. We stay in a job we hate because we don’t want to really listen to the voice inside of ourselves telling us we are unhappy. After all, it is too much effort and emotional baggage to raise these issues with our work colleagues (and even our spouse!).

But what if we could get away from people pleasing? In other words, truly following what we want to do rather than what would make other people happy. This would be different because we would be truly comfortable in saying what we think, without fear of repercussions of being made an outcast. It would allow us to do all the fun, creative things that we’ve always wanted to try, or take the big leap in what we really wanted to do in life.

Without people pleasing, we can become who we truly want to be.

Now the road towards listening to ourselves is not a quick one. If we’ve spent years ignoring what we truly believe, it will take time and effort to re-find our voice. But if we can break the connection between our insatiable desire to be liked and how we feel as an individual, we can be truly free.

From a state of freedom, we can do whatever we want to in our lives.

How important is it for you to be liked?

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