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Overcoming People Pleasing for Professional Growth

by | Jan 9, 2024

When it comes to your professional growth, there are a lot of clear-cut ways to improve your prospects. Training, collaboration, seeking out new opportunities, all are great ways to support your career and take you where you want to go in your work.

That said, there is a potential stumbling block to your professional success, one that may not be immediately obvious. In your pursuit of opportunity and career advancement, have you:

  • Struggled to say no to those around you?
  • Been feeling burned out or unfulfilled, because you feel like your opinions and needs are ignored at work?
  • If you manage others, have you felt you’re being pulled in a hundred directions by the varying needs of those around you?
  • Have you found yourself trying to anticipate what others will ask of you, adding stress to your plate?

If you find these questions relatable, you may be a people pleaser. People pleasing can stop you from being your authentic self (or even a functional self) in your professional environment, holding you back from effective accomplishment and career advancement. 

People pleasing; is it a problem?

You may be asking yourself, what’s so wrong with people pleasing? Doesn’t everyone want to keep their team happy at work?

Being collaborative and agreeable is highly constructive. Getting along with a broad variety of people at work gives you an advantage in terms of understanding multiple perspectives, hearing all possible input, and being included in opportunities as they come up.

But people pleasing is not just trying to get along with people. People pleasing is working to make those around you happy, at the expense of your own well-being. It is over-valuing the needs, wants, and opinions of others while under-valuing your own. 

What does people pleasing look like?

  • Disregarding what you want or need in order to do what others want
  • Agreeing to anything asked of you, meaning you take on too much work
  • Being afraid to upset others by saying “no”
  • Having a hard time making decisions without consulting others
  • Allowing others to speak over you, treat you poorly, take advantage of you, or disregard you
  • Being apologetic, particularly for things that aren’t a problem, or aren’t your direct responsibility
  • Trying to manage others’ feelings

People pleasing hinders professional development

When you lose touch with yourself because of people pleasing, it can lead directly to resentment, burnout, career stalling, mismanagement, and stress.  This can keep you from being effective in your career, holding you back from professional fulfillment and making your work life miserable.

People pleasing prevents effective decision-making

Making a decision when you’re a chronic people pleaser can feel impossible without input from others. And once a people pleaser receives that input, they tend to make a decision that will align best with it, without considering their own expertise or experience.

In your professional life, you’ll need to make multiple decisions a day. As you progress through your career, these decisions can have larger and larger impacts both on your own work, and the work of others. Being able to make effective decisions that reflect your expertise is critical to your success, and to your work feeling authentic to you. People pleasing makes effective decision-making impossible for you.

Fear of upsetting others undermines assertiveness

When you approach work with a fear of upsetting others, you hold yourself back. You’ve learned a lot in your career, on how to handle work situations and pivot when needed. Asserting yourself when you know what needs to be done in a professional situation can be critical to solving problems and making progress, but when you are too afraid to offend others and don’t speak up, you reduce your effectiveness in your work. Your voice is needed, but people pleasing makes it difficult to realize that.

How to stop people pleasing

You know you want to make effective decisions in your career. You know you want to assert yourself. You know that people pleasing is keeping you from doing this. So now, you need to know how to stop people pleasing.

  1. Let your core values lead the way

To stop people pleasing, look inward and figure out what your personal and professional values actually are. Your core values guide how you approach the world. Tapping into and understanding your core values will help you stop abandoning yourself in people pleasing and instead start working in alignment with yourself.

How to find your core values:

When you’re a people pleaser, you may feel disconnected from your core values. Going through the process of finding what your values are will get you started on the road to action that aligns with them. 

Ask yourself questions; who do you admire, and why? What motivates you? What feels most authentic to you? What do you care most about? What makes you feel proud? These questions will show you what drives you, what matters to you, and what will make you feel most fulfilled. 

Tap into your core values to stop people pleasing

When you find yourself slipping into people-pleasing behaviors, remind yourself of your values. Write them down and look at them regularly. Gentle, consistent reminders will help pull you out of the people-pleasing autopilot mode, and into a more active role in your professional life. You’ll be reminded of why you should bother to speak up, and with time it will become easier. You’ll move away from people-pleasing and into trusting yourself.

  1. Practice saying “no”

In your personal and professional life, if you’re a people pleaser, you likely struggle with saying “no”. Once you’ve started tapping into your core values, you’ll be more aware of your own discomfort or disinterest in agreeing to particular situations.

Give yourself permission to say “no” to people. You may find yourself with a full work calendar and need to say that taking on another task isn’t possible for you. You may need to say no to a request from a team member, if it isn’t feasible or appropriate for the project at hand. 

At first, it will feel strange to say no. You may be worried about the reactions of those around you. You’ll likely be surprised, however, at how many people in your life accept your “no” without question. That said, some people around you who are used to your people-pleasing behaviors may be surprised, or even upset, when you start to change them. Part of the process of undoing people-pleasing includes accepting that you don’t control how others respond to you. When people react negatively to you saying “no”, consider that it’s time to practice separating from the need to manage others’ emotions.

  1. Assert yourself with boundaries

It can be intimidating to consider establishing your own boundaries. You’re used to looking to others for approval and action plans, and haven’t had as much practice at asserting yourself. Now is the time to lean into your professional development, through practicing boundary setting.

A crash course in setting boundaries

  • Decide on your boundaries; what is acceptable to you, and what is not? 
  • Make a plan; what will you do if your boundaries are crossed? How do you want to assert yourself; by speaking up? Removing yourself from the situation? 
  • Communicate your boundary: be specific about what is and is not acceptable. Speak plainly and simply; you don’t have to beg them to understand, or be defensive. Explain your reasoning simply, without slipping into people pleasing by asking for approval.
  • Defend your boundary: If you receive pushback on your boundary, enact your plan for how you want to assert your boundary. Trust yourself. 

What if people react badly to a boundary?

Boundary setting takes practice; you’ll find it easier with time, but at firs, it can seem extremely difficult, especially if you upset someone. Remind yourself, when you feel uncomfortable setting a boundary, that the work you’re doing is serving you long-term in ways people pleasing never could. With time that discomfort will give way to self-assured understanding that you’re doing what you’re doing because you trust yourself and know you’re making the right choice.   

Consider executive coaching to help you stop people pleasing

When considering how to stop people-pleasing, recruiting the support of an executive coach can make a huge difference in how quickly and effectively you can leave people pleasing behind. Executive coaching helps you develop the leadership skills needed to thrive in your career, offering an approach to professional development tailored specifically to you and your career. Consider getting in touch with an executive coach in Atlanta today for a free consultation, to see how executive coaching can empower you to achieve authentic success.

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About Gleyce | View Profile

Gleyce Almeida-Farrell is a psychotherapist and the founder of Holistic Wellness Practice in Alpharetta, GA. She specializes in helping adults manage stress and overcome symptoms of anxiety utilizing a holistic and integrative approach to mental wellness.

We offer in-person and virtual services – contact us today to learn more!

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