How to stop being a people pleaser in the workplace

people pleaser
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These days, you can hardly move for seeing inspirational quotes telling you to ‘say yes’ to everything, or ‘do more’ in your career.

But those positive statements can become unhealthy if you take on too much work and you become desperate to please others so you can climb the career ladder.

According to Elizabeth Svodoba, of Psychology Today: ‘Because girls are typically trained from an early age to accommodate and defer to others, a disproportionate number of people-pleasers are women.’

That’s not to say men can’t be people pleasers either, but you’re more likely to have those people pleasing traits if you’re a woman. Fortunately, you can break the cycle of seeking approval and bending over backwards to help colleagues. Here’s how.

Learn to delegate and collaborate

Whatever your level of seniority, it can seem like a complement when you’re given a ton of hugely important projects to do – surely this is your chance to prove your worth and tackle everything alone, right? Well, if the projects are honestly more than a one-person job, you need to start delegating, and stop trying to juggle all the work single-handedly.

Start with the areas of a project that you’re less enthusiastic about, either because they don’t use your best skills, or you just find them a bit boring. If there are parts of a project you must do yourself, but you’re not that confident, ask a colleague for help. Could they give you some guidance, or point you towards an online tutorial? Getting other people involved isn’t a sign of weakness. In fact, it can make those projects better.

Use the ‘best friend’ test to challenge an unhealthy workload or situation

Your people pleasing tendencies can land you a great job and help you make friends in the office, but they can also lead you to unhealthy situations. If you’re known for never turning down overtime, or forever running errands for others, your good nature can lead to exploitation. You might see it as being ‘useful’, but some colleagues may see you as a pushover.

The problem is, once you’ve said ‘yes’ regularly, it feels awkward to backtrack and stand your ground. Break this pattern by imagining what you’d say to your best friend if they were in a similar situation: would you encourage him or her to just stay silent and risk burnout? Would you want them leaving work at 10pm every night because they were doing favours for others? Exactly. Get some ground rules written down, discuss them with your line manager, and keep pushing back until things change.

Know your work-life balance, and match it to your company

As Forbes points out, not only do you need to find your work-life balance, but your ‘work-work balance’, between your own work needs and your employer’s work needs. If your boss or your company expects a level of dedication you could only achieve by being a robot or giving up sleep altogether, you need a new job.

The right employer will value you as a person, not a statistic, and they should see it’s important for employees to have downtime. Fortunately, many employers reveal details of their company culture and policies on their website, so you can do some detective work before you apply for a vacancy. A healthier work-life balance will curb your people pleasing tendencies and hopefully prevent the boring office competition to see who can stay the latest.

Boost your self-esteem, and shout about your achievements

People pleasing can often be used to boost self-esteem, but the effect rarely lasts, because you need another fix of helping someone to feel valued again. Shift your attitude by looking at your personal achievements and skills – the things that make you unique and that got you hired.

It can seem a bit weird to praise yourself, but some simple list-making is a great start. Write down a weekly list of things you’ve achieved at work, from menial tasks to big challenges (some of these might be factored in when asking for a pay rise). Add in anything you’ve done for yourself, such as going for lunch in your favourite café to unwind, or walking home instead of getting the bus. Not everything has to be tied to helping others, or seeking approval.

Now you’ve begun to unpick your people pleasing, you can ease the pressure and embrace being assertive.

About the author

Polly Allen writes graduate careers advice for Inspiring Interns, a graduate recruitment agency specialising in matching career starters with graduate jobs. For everything from marketing internships to graduate jobs Manchester, click here.

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