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People Pleaser

If I had a $ for every person who has called themselves a “People Pleaser” I’d be typing this from the Maldives between massages.  Like a cute little puppy that scores you a visit to the first aid tent,  it is actually one of the more unhelpful self-labels that can come out of someone’s mouth. 


Humans feel better when they are kind, and worse when they’re not.  To that extent, we are all people pleasers.  Otherwise there would be a category of people proudly identifying themselves as “People Agitators” and they rarely announce that at team building days.   

When we call ourselves people pleasers what we are really saying is “I please people even when it isn’t healthy for me and is to my detriment” or “When I look after my own needs I feel bad”.  These are more honest, constructive conversations to have with ourselves. It is not a badge of honour if it means we have, in this one life we get, read one line from every actor's script and didn't end up proud of the Play. 

When we think of ourselves as people pleasers it is hard to create change. It is like answering in an interview that your weakness is working too hard, caring too much and being a perfectionist. No one is going to say “I work the basic amount and I’m cool with low standards.” There’s not the tipping point of discomfort needed to generate change. 

The second challenge with labelling ourselves as people pleasers is that it subconsciously infers all or nothing.  Say it enough and you'll start to defer to this identity and others will express surprise when you don't. The truth is we should please people when we can and it matters, and not put their needs first when we have no bandwidth or the price is too high. Not all scenarios are created equal.

I’ve worked hard on that after being raised in a family where selflessness, service and other people feeling good, were paramount. I confess there is a store near me that I’ve stopped going into because every time I do, the lady looks like she is off “Thank God you are here” as she herds me in a fitting room with a collection of clothes I would not wear if it was a dare. For the longest time I would try them on because she was so lovely I didn’t want to hurt her feelings. 

In my work, I feel good about pleasing people too but have to focus on the fact that pleasing them in the long term might not please them in the short term.  Agreeing with a coaching client that everyone else is the problem doesn’t create meaningful change so I don’t do it.   Getting good workshop ratings because they had a lovely day is not as important to me as whether they remember the skills and strategies 3 weeks later even if it involved challenges at the time.  

I’m all for a world of kindness and selflessness.  The thing is, I don’t question that people are kind and I don’t think that needs to be said.  I’m also for a world where you are as kind to yourself as you are to others.  Because you get one story to write.  And you just gave away your pen.


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