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People Pleasing

Have you found yourself repeatedly in situations where you try to make everyone happy? Maybe it is because you want to be liked, or maybe you just strive for harmony. This is not an uncommon ambition, but before long it is pretty clear that it is not possible to please everyone. Also, the process of trying to do so very quickly becomes exhausting, and you might not make anyone happy in the end. Whether it is a decision about seating arrangements for a wedding reception or critical product launch decisions, some people are bound to disagree or be unhappy with the result.

A “people pleaser,” by definition, is someone everyone considers helpful and kind. If you are a ­­people pleaser, when someone needs help with a project, you are more than willing to step up. People pleasing also implies doing this even when you don’t want to. Similar to refraining from saying “No” to requests, you may neglect your own needs because you fear disappointing others when they ask for you help. Afterall, why would they ask for help if they didn’t really need it?

It is normal and admirable to be helpful and kind, but when it goes too far, it can take a toll emotionally and physically. Being overly concerned with pleasing others, often for approval, can result in self-sacrifice. Most people perceive a people pleaser as being a wonderful, giving person, but the effort it takes to please everyone can be stressful and draining over time. While part of the reward for the people pleaser is being liked, the long-term effect is often anger and resentment from spreading oneself too thin and denying one’s own needs and wishes. Pleasing others crosses a line when done out of fear of being disliked or rejected.

Who are you trying to please?

Since you can't please everyone, whom should you focus on pleasing?

Like all complex questions, the answer is ... It depends. In business that question could hold a lot of weight, as it comes down to stakeholders, customers, shareholders, and employees. In one’s personal life, it’s a different question, and maybe it’s a factor of age, respect, status, relationship, or culture.

It also depends on WHY one wants to please others – is it to be liked, to gain reciprocity, to avoid conflict, to maintain peace and harmony, to uphold an image of congeniality, or is it something else? People pleasers often tend to feel responsible for how others feel, apologize for themselves often, have a difficult time saying “no,” feel uncomfortable when others are angry with them, pretend to agree with everyone, and avoid conflict at all costs.

How does perfection play into people pleasing?

In life and in business one makes mistakes, some of which have greater ramifications than others. When we try to please people all the time, we often try to please everyone in an effort toward perfection. On one hand we know we cannot please everyone, yet on the other hand perfectionism drives us to try. This ultimately results in frustration and stress; it takes a lot of energy. Most significant of all, many don’t win, especially the people pleaser. The effort often backfires, so that we don’t reach our highest potential when we’re trying to be everything for everyone else, except ourselves.

How can one reduce or stop people pleasing?

Like with most other behaviors we want to change, it starts with having an awareness that this is happening and a desire to change it. Once this is in motion, here are some other things to do:

Set clear boundaries

Know your limits and communicate them clearly. This includes saying “No” when these boundaries are pushed. Gaining control over what you are willing to take on when helps balance how much you do for others with what you do for yourself. Once you define boundaries for yourself, stick with them. As a people-pleaser, you may be inclined to put them aside for others, but the more you do that, the less you’re claiming your own worth, time, and energy for yourself.

Start small

Change can be hard, so start in small ways to step back from accommodating and giving in to others. They may notice this change and try to push back. While your tendency might be to acquiesce, it’s important to practice standing firm – for yourself. One small step is to ask others for something you need or to say “no” to certain requests. Try expressing yourself in small ways instead of stepping aside, so that others can shine. Practicing in small ways in different contexts builds confidence in yourself and diminishes the insecurity about saying “no” to others. It also helps you reclaim and value yourself.


Determine your goals and prioritize the steps to get there; this can be a guide for you to direct and commit to your activities and energy, so that these don’t get swept up by someone else. A calendar might help you stay on track with your time. You can also note when you fall into the habit of people pleasing; chart the amount of time you spend doing this. You may be surprised how much of a time sink this can be. Being clear about and committing to your priorities also helps you maintain healthy boundaries.

Create a reminder

We all need the support when “trying on” new behaviors. It could simply be something that will remind you to carry out the new behavior. Find something that will remind you to pause and assess whether you are leaning toward people pleasing. Maybe it’s taking a couple breaths or putting a note with an affirmation nearby. It should be something or some way that is meaningful to you to remember the new behavior you want to instill. Get creative and have fun with this!

Take Time

Similar to pausing, before agreeing to others’ requests right away, tell them you will get back to them. Put yourself in the “driver’s seat” and take charge of the situation; after all, it is your time and energy at stake, so take the time you need to assess if it is something you WANT to do or if you’re falling into people-pleasing habits.

Don’t give excuses

When you stand up for yourself or say “no” to requests, be direct and decisive. You do not need to apologize or justify spending your time and energy on yourself. Giving excuses give others the leeway to poke holes in them and rationalize why you could fulfill their requests.

Have a mental picture of healthy relationships

Healthy relationships area natural exchange of give and take. When this is out of balance, one person more often gets their needs met, while the other may forego theirs. Hold a mental image of a balanced relationship where both parties are getting their needs met.

Many people enjoy pleasing and helping others. This is certainly not wrong or unhealthy, as long as it allows you to remain true to yourself and to assert yourself, despite others’ opinions about you.

What about in business?

In business, leaders must decide among options all the time. Each option has pros and cons, and each will have different supporters. Making a decision could alienate the leader from part of their team for a while, but a leader’s job isn't to keep everyone happy or to be liked by everyone.

As Google’s CEO, Sundar Pichai says, “Leadership is moving things forward.” This applies to corporations like Google, as well as to our personal lives. We are the leaders of our own lives, and this means balancing asserting ourselves with helping and pleasing others.

What to do TODAY?

Karen Natasha Coaching helps many people create awareness around their attitudes and behaviors. We help people shift their energy, so that they are able to move forward with assurance, confidence, and renewed energy to achieve their goals. Contact Karen Natasha Coaching for a consultation to experience how we can help.

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