The Perils of People-Pleasing

October 15th 2014

We’ve all been to this party: 

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  • A client makes an impossible request, and you say, “Sure. I can do that.” 
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  • A prospect who won’t tell you the truth about his situation asks, “So what can you do for me?”, and you launch into your best pitch. 
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  • A team member wants to bend the rules just one more time, and you say, “Well, ok. But let’s not make a habit of this.” 
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This behavior is not customer service. It’s not good salesmanship. And it’s not leadership. It’s people-pleasing. Everyone I know, including me, has fallen into the people-pleasing trap. It’s absolutely deadly.

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We get into these situations without any warning. The narration in our heads begins automatically, telling us that we must do this for the client, we must try to get this work, we must do everything in our power to keep that team member. We don’t even know it’s happening, and suddenly we’re drowning in the people-pleasing pool.

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While I’m by no means fully equipped to offer swimming lessons in this area, I’ve been thinking about it a lot. I hope my thoughts will help us all:

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When we have any inkling that we’re about to people-please, the first thing to do is take a deep breath, maybe several of them. This buys us a little bit of time and may slow the speed of the narrative tapes in our minds.

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Then, we need to step outside the conversation of the moment somehow. We need to see it from a broader perspective while engaging in the moment. This is definitely a paradox, and definitely difficult. Instead of telling ourselves we can accomplish the impossible, we need to ask ourselves what the attempt will do to us, to our team, and ultimately to our client or prospect. The results of people-pleasing are rarely beneficial to anyone involved.

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After that it gets even harder. We must summon our courage and find the words to say something like, “I appreciate your request and I’d love to be able to fulfill it. But that’s not what we discussed or agreed to. What can we create that will work for all of us?”

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There are clients, prospects, and team members with whom a productive connection is simply not possible. While they are rare, they steal energy and happiness from our more positive professional relationships when we allow them to continue. In these instances, we must be willing to walk away, and bear the risks and consequences of doing so. That willingness allows us to climb out of the people-pleasing pool and get our feet onto solid ground.

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Opportunities to work with demanding, fearful, or negative people will always exist. The challenge is to recognize our contribution to those relationships. Most of us realize by now that the only behavior we can control is our own. It seems to me that if we can monitor ourselves more effectively in each moment, we have a chance to think and then to decide the next steps, rather than simply reverting to old and unproductive habits.

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professional development, communication, motivation

Comments



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Laura
10/16/2014 8:32am
Melinda,\r\nAs always, you are right on point. The risks and consequences of getting rid of those types of people in our professional and personal lives ARE worth it.
Roxanne
10/16/2014 7:52am
I fell into the people pleasing pool trying to please the one individual who would never be happy with me no matter what. Rather than just letting it go, I became obsessed with winning that person over. It never happened and I wasted so much personal capital on this person. I can completely identify.
Kyla Thompson
10/16/2014 5:09am
I call it the 'disease to please' and I am so happy not to have it anymore in business or my personal life. You're spot on.