No Please. How To Overcome People Pleasing

by Mark Ellwood

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A ‘people pleaser’ is someone who constantly tries hard to make others happy – and is usually a person that everyone considers to be helpful, kind and a hard worker. They could be a person who will always lend help on a project, will always take on extra work, will often stay late or work through lunch hours. 


This may well sound like the ideal colleague or employee. But dig a little deeper, and serious issues with people pleasers are revealed. In this post we take a look at the problems of people pleasing and how to overcome them.


  1. Identifying People Pleasers


People pleasers will often demonstrate several, or all of the following behaviours;

  • Pretending to agree, even when they don’t. The desire to be viewed positively outweighs the desire to speak honestly

  • Inability to say no – to extra work, to the requests of others. Inability to set boundaries

  • Inability to delegate – they take it all on themselves

  • Over-apologising. Apologising for things out of their control

  • Owning the emotions of others - frequently blaming themselves for the emotional responses of other people

  • Social chameleon - changing personality to match those around them at any given time

  • Taking on too many tasks and responsibilities – workload management issues

  • Avoiding conflict at all costs

  • Constant need for praise and admiration and validation

  • Never raising personal feelings or issues



You may well recognise some of these traits in yourself or your colleagues.  The fact is that these are behaviours we all exhibit at some point in time for one reason or another.  But for people pleasers, the constant expression of these traits becomes problematic.


  1. The Plus Sides


It’s not uncommon for managers to view people pleasers as ideal employees and for these individuals to gain strong performance reviews. They tend to stay late whenever they’re asked, they’re very productive, they tend to agree with everything the manager says and get on with it and they usually volunteer for extra work. Not only that, they’re often very popular around the office because they’re so helpful and agreeable. But usually, people pleasers are the ideal employees until something breaks, they leave the business and there is significant fallout.



  1. The Negatives



Lack of self-care

People pleasers constantly try to accommodate the needs of others, resulting in them neglecting their own needs such as the requirements for downtime and revitalising that such hard work requires. This can lead to losing track of personal career goals and can result mental burn-out and a marked reduction in quality of work.


Lower team productivity

People pleasers are motivated by validation from others. But when they can always be relied upon to go the extra mile, this eventually becomes taken from granted by the team. In fact, the pleaser is training others to rely on them. Being able to off-load to someone else all the time can lead to sloppy and less productive work from others and a reduction in their creativity.


Infecting the workplace

Another potential scenario is that people see the praise and popularity of the people pleaser and start to think it’s the way to advance their career. They start to emulate the people pleasing.  This creates an over-working and low-trust culture in the workplace that can be hard to dismantle.


Over-focus in the wrong areas

With a strong desire to please managers, people pleasers can sometimes focus on task that they think will make the manager happy, instead of looking at the strategic priorities. For example, this could mean spending hours on making an administrative worksheet look amazing instead of making those top priority client calls that morning. What’s more, the people pleaser will expect praise for this work, and will feel rejected and frustrated when they’re told they should have been focused on a different task.


Slow build-up of resentment

When this being taken for granted and mismatch of expectations becomes more apparent, the people pleaser doesn’t vocalise their displeasure. Instead, they accept even more work with a smile while feeling underappreciated and undervalued, watching co-workers leave on time while they stay behind. They become angry at how hard they work, even though it’s a situation of their own making.


Loss of control

With a mountain of extra work, feeling responsible for carrying everyone’s emotions on their shoulders and feeling underappreciated, people pleasers will feel a loss of control and a rise in stress. Rather than say no to work, they will try to manage it in other ways, such as taking sick leave. They may also start acting overwhelmed and stressed at work, bringing down the team morale and making managers question their own interpersonal and soft skills.


Creating a void

All of this build-up eventually leads to an eruption. It could start with passive aggressive behaviour, sabotaging teamwork by withholding information, or bad-mouthing bosses, co-workers or the firm in general behind closed doors. There could be a meltdown at someone in the office and/or the people pleaser suddenly and unexpectedly leaving.


When that happens, the fallout is significant. The people pleaser has taken on much more work than the average employee and has ensured people over-rely on them. So, suddenly the team has to fill that void and it becomes hard to re-fill that role with just a single person.



  1. Working with people pleasers


While an unfettered people pleasers will almost certainly end up causing problems, the well managed people pleaser can be nurtured, and become an outstanding, very loyal employee with very high skill levels as a result of the high standards they set themselves. So rather than avoiding people pleasers altogether or attempting to oust them once they are recognised, managers should instead


  • Ensure they feel comfortable being more open and honest. This then leads to greater accountability standards – both in terms of their workloads and also expectations of others

  • Provide them with the training and tools to manage themselves better and to work more in the team - rather than individual – framework, becoming a team player


Development initiatives include

  • Allowing people pleasers to feel it’s ok to say no, and ensuring they’re not taken advantage of by others. Showing them how to say no in the workplace

  • Making sure the people pleaser is clear on priorities and what’s important for the team that day or week. Focus their intense energies in the right direction

  • Check on their workload and their wellbeing in a situation where they feel confident. Become their trusted confidante

  • Acknowledge and reward their service. But especially when this has been teamwork.  Reward their own praising of their colleagues and direct reports, as well as mentoring and training they give to others. Appreciate their teamwork

  • Ensure occasional down-time and rest periods are taken in line with other employees, or reward extra hard work with extra down time. Take note if they’re too often working late or skipping lunch


In making these accommodations and being kindly assertive with people pleasers, you will be improving the overall social responsibility and wellbeing infrastructure for all employees, creating and open and honest and accountable culture in the workplace, so these initiatives will have an escalating pay off.


Stop being a people pleaser

If you recognise this story and these traits in yourself, you can learn how to stop being a people pleaser and overcome this compulsion.

  • Improve your assertiveness. It’s very possible to be assertive without creating conflict or coming across as aggressive. In fact, assertiveness training is a core part of development programs in many businesses and a big field in itself. There is a lot of advice online – here’s a suggestion from PsychCentral

  • Learn to say no. Again, learning to say no is very important to be able to manage your workload and the expectations of others. See our previous blog post on this subject

  • Buy time for decisions. If you need to check your workload before giving answer to a request – tell that person you’ll get back to them. Building in delays to decision making will help you better assess and manage your workload

  • Get better at organising your workload. This will involve working with your team and managers to delegate tasks and manage the overall team workload. This will help you to open up and become more honest with team members, creating a much healthier working environment. Make sure the team can all keep track of how work is going in case they need to help each other out

  • Identify personal goals. Understand where you want to be with your career and how you are going to get there. Use progress against these goals for personal validation and look at how the work you are doing is contributing to these ultimate aims

  • Stop apologising. Don’t apologise for things out of your control. We wrote a post on appropriate apologising in the last issue – check it out here

  • Stop owning other people’s feelings. People will react in a number of different ways to any given situation, depending on a variety of factors in their own lives that are out of your control. As long as you remain professional and a team player in the workplace, these feelings of other people are not your responsibility.


Hopefully we’ve shown here how people pleasing can create problems if left unchecked, but also that the habit of people pleasing can be overcome and that there’s definitely a place for well-managed people pleasers in the workforce.  If you feel this article could help a fiend or colleague, please share, like us on social media, and subscribe to more posts via our website here.