What is people-pleasing?People-pleasing refers to a psychological pattern of behaviour where individuals feel an overwhelming need to seek approval and satisfy the wishes of others. This often stems from a fear of rejection or criticism, leading people to put their own needs and desires aside in favour of meeting the expectations of others.
While initially people-pleasing may seem harmless, it can gradually take a toll on mental health and in some cases, physical health. The constant need to please others can lead to chronic stress, anxiety and burnout. Over time, these negative emotional states can become debilitating, affecting performance, decision-making and overall wellbeing.
Effects of people-pleasing
1. Surrendering controlBy consistently prioritising others' needs, we often lose control over our own career path. Instead of pursuing goals that match our interests and aspirations, we can fall into a pattern of continually seeking validation and approval. As a result, personal growth and professional development may get stifled, limiting opportunities for advancing our career.
2. Undermining confidencePeople-pleasers are prone to second-guessing themselves as they constantly seek reassurance and validation from others. This perpetual reliance on external validation can damage self-confidence and diminishes our belief in our own abilities. In turn, this lack of confidence can negatively impact our professional presence, assertiveness and ability to take risks – qualities that are often essential for moving forward in our career.
3. Lack of boundariesA key characteristic of people-pleasing is the tendency to struggle with setting clear boundaries. By trying to accommodate everyone's needs and demands, we often find ourselves overwhelmed with tasks and responsibilities that extend beyond our capabilities. This can lead to work overload, poor time management and decreased productivity, ultimately hindering career growth.
Debbie Sorensen, a Harvard-trained clinical psychologist, says that people-pleasers “tend to be very kind, thoughtful people, which makes it that much harder for them to set boundaries, not take on too much work or get emotionally invested in their jobs”. Sorensen goes on to say “It can be uncomfortable to set boundaries at work, but next time you’re tempted to pile more responsibilities on your plate, pause and ask yourself if you really want, or need, to take that on. And fight the knee-jerk reaction to say ‘yes’ to everything”.
4. Perceived as indecisiveMost employers value individuals who possess strong leadership qualities, including the ability to make decisions confidently and assertively. However, people-pleasers often struggle with decisive action, as they may fear conflict. This perception of indecisiveness can prevent growth and progression of a career, particularly in roles that require strong leadership skills.
By breaking free from the confines of people-pleasing, we can gain confidence, assertiveness and the ability to make decisions that are right for us. Striking a balance between meeting others' expectations and prioritising personal growth and fulfilment can help us to accelerate our career and improve our happiness and wellbeing.