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Quit Being People Pleaser at Work

Are you a natural giver who works hard? Do you pride yourself as a hardworking person who likes helping others reach their potential? Do you find it difficult to say NO and set boundaries?

If you answered yes to all or any of those questions you might be a people pleaser. This blog post will help you to learn what people pleaser is, how they behave at work and what to do to change it.

There are many definitions and recent findings about people pleasing. I like to understand the root cause of why we behave, think and have certain beliefs. To buttress this point, I refer to Dr. Nichole LePera (known as @the.holistic.psychologist on Instagram) who provides an in-depth analysis of human behaviours that often originate from our childhood. According to her definition people pleasing is a fawn trauma response and it is “an adaptation we use to stay safe”. A people-pleaser develops this type of response as a result of being raised in a home environment where he/she has experienced emotional abuse, bullying, parental outrage cycles, and/or where shaming was a regular occurrence, etc. On the outside, people who fawn might be seen as easy-going, however, people pleasers are highly anxious and extremely sensitive about others' opinions and they try as much as possible to avoid conflict. It is hard for these types to create boundaries because they lack the wherewithal to do so right from childhood.

How people pleasing can show up at work?

As we don’t have a switch-off button and we operate on the behaviours that are fundamentally ingrained within, we bring the same habits and beliefs about ourselves to our workplace. Here are a few examples of how this can behaviour show up at work:

  • Difficulty in saying “No” to anything like staying late every time there is any need or offering additional help to anyone who asks even when we have a lot on our plates already.

  • Worrying about what others think about you and your work.

  • Being constantly available for others.

  • Overappologising (even for things that are completely outside of your control).

  • Scared to be perceived as ‘selfish’ and therefore not being able to set boundaries.

  • Being always agreeable in order to be accepted.

  • Avoiding conflicts or the slightest perception of potential conflict.

Unfortunately, these behaviours can be rewarded in certain organisations. And as much as it looks innocent from the outside, in the long term it can be devastating for the people pleaser. They can start developing problems with mental health, which will lead to burnout and depression. It is therefore extremely important to address those unhelpful beliefs and behaviours to help the employee to elevate a more balanced mindset towards work.

How to overcome people pleasing?

Here are some strategies that can help you learn more helpful behaviours:

  1. Learn to be more assertive and start setting up boundaries. Start small. Say no to a coffee or a cake that you don’t want. See how it goes. Can you be more daring and use your no at least once a day?

  2. There is nothing bad about being helpful to others but it can impact your own tasks and responsibilities. If a colleague asks you to do something check your calendar first. If you have time you can meet them to address any queries. Ask them to prepare beforehand - to write down their questions and concerns before you meet.

  3. Try to see yourself as your best friend and develop this type of attitude. Ask yourself “if my friend thought about ‘X’ in a different way would I still accept him/her.

  4. Disagreement can be uncomfortable but it doesn’t mean it has to end up with a conflict. If you feel like the situation is getting heated choose to ‘agree to disagree’. By doing so you reserve the right to have a different opinion and you start building your own confidence.

Unlearning patterns and behaviours can be difficult at the start but not impossible. Give yourself permission to start as small as possible. Think what is the smallest thing you can do just for yourself. You can also seek out help from a trusted friend or a family member that can help you to build up new habits. Alternatively, reach out to a professional therapist or coach that will help to guide you to create new behaviours.

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