Has anyone ever accused you of being a people pleaser at work? You might have felt put off, thinking, “Yeah, I like making sure everyone in the office is happy. What’s wrong with that?”
The answer? Nothing. It’s admirable to be a pleasant co-worker and a leader who helps others be successful. In fact, individuals labeled as “people pleasers” are often kind and have honorable intentions. They usually accept heavier workloads, expend time and energy to enhance team morale, and care deeply for their company and co-workers. These are all positive attributes, so it might be difficult to see how looking out for others’ happiness could possibly have a negative impact on your career and professional happiness—but it can.
For example, to please others, you may go along with colleagues’ subpar ideas, even when you have a better solution. You might agree to unreasonable requests, like working late nights and weekends to cover for co-workers. As a result, you may feel overwhelmed, overworked, and unappreciated for all of the extra support you provide—and that can lead to frustration and burnout.
Conversely, the ability to assert yourself appropriately, take pride in your ideas, and prioritize your own needs can help you excel in your career.
While it can be difficult to break this habit, it isn’t impossible. Here’s how to overcome people-pleasing tendencies and get back on track to career success.
1. Admit and Commit to Change
Start by assessing the root of your need to please others. Do you fear rejection or failure? Maybe the habit stems from how you were raised or an experience from your childhood. Take some time to think through why you habitually put others before yourself. Knowing what habits you need to break—and where they came from—will make it easier to overcome them.
Then, pinpoint where you want to improve. Make a list of the issues you’re noticing at the office, like feeling underappreciated or working more while your colleagues work less. Now consider what you could do differently to avoid those situations—for example, by setting firm boundaries about how late you’re willing to stay at the office—and stick to those commitments.
2. Ask Others for Help
Instead of constantly agreeing to requests from others at work, turn it around by proactively seeking out opportunities for co-workers to help you.
For example, the next time you’re overwhelmed by emails, meetings, or projects, ask if one of your colleagues could take something off your plate—like research for an upcoming presentation or help with filing reports. Even if it’s a minor task, it’s a move toward being OK with asking for help.
3. Make it an Official Goal
If you have a supportive supervisor, mention in your next one-on-one meeting or evaluation that being a people pleaser is something you want to work on. Explain why and how you want to move away from this habit, and describe specific skills you want to improve on—such as delegation.
Making your supervisor aware of your goal will enable him or her to help you create an action plan. And, as a bonus, your boss will likely appreciate your insightfulness and dedication to professional development.
4. Practice Saying “No”
People pleasers often fear that by becoming more assertive, they will damage workplace relationships. You can eliminate some of that fear simply by trying out different ways to say “no” until you feel more comfortable.
Privately rehearse responses like, “I’m sorry, but I have a big deadline approaching, and I’m completely focused on that. Try asking Angela for help,” or, “I can work on that after I complete this report.” You may also want to consider establishing timeframes—for example, “I am free to help on Tuesday from 10 AM until 12 PM.”
Practicing phrases like these will make turning down a project feel much more natural, which can alleviate the fear of damaging your relationships with co-workers.
5. Take Baby Steps
Don’t feel that you have to do a complete 180 overnight. Start small. Identify a few habits to focus on first, and work through them gradually. For example, maybe you begin by tracking how often you apologize for things that aren’t your fault or setting a goal to turn down one additional assignment each week.
Easing out of your established tendencies take some pressure off of you and will be less shocking for the people you work with—rather than suddenly shouting, “No!” in response to every request.
6. Realize You Are Not Alone
When someone asks you for help, you may think, “If I don’t do this, it won’t get done,” or, “This person is depending on me to come through for them.” But those thoughts aren’t always true. The future of the company you work for does not rest solely on your shoulders, and there are other people who can take on additional responsibilities if you are maxed out.
Understanding this will help you eliminate stress, ensure tasks are dispersed evenly and appropriately, and ultimately help you enjoy your career more.
Striving to make everyone happy all of the time is not sustainable. It might be possible in the short term, but ultimately, the only person you have complete control over is you. Make yourself your first priority, and you’ll be happier in your work and a better professional for it.
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