Thursday, February 25, 2010

Are You a People Pleaser?

Young children love to get attention and approval from their parents. If you’re on a playground, observe how many kids yell, “Watch me go down the slide, Mommy!” And then they wait for the positive look or exclamation from her once they get to the bottom.

A small example, but significant.

Unless you had an unusual upbringing, you probably sought approval from the important adults in your life, too, including parents, grandparents, teachers, and coaches. It’s a universal need, and it serves an important purpose. You learn to abide by rules, “play nice” with others, and get along in school and society.

But there’s a downside to that dynamic as children grow into teens and then become adults. If you take the need for acceptance too far, you can sacrifice your own needs and rights. Lacking a strong sense of your own worth, you’ll look to others to validate that you’re worthy. You won’t have confidence in your own opinion of yourself or your actions, so you wait for others to express their approval.

Do you find yourself doing things, not because you want to but because you’re hoping your actions lead to acceptance, recognition or praise from others? Do you expend a lot of energy trying to ensure that everyone around you likes you and approves of what you’re doing? If this describes you, you may be a “people-pleaser.”

While the payoff may be getting the approval you seek, the good feeling you experience is temporary and never fully satisfying. That’s because you don’t fully accept yourself.

If you want to make the shift from dependence on others to reliance on your own opinion of yourself, here’s my encouragement:
  1. Before you agree to do something, ask yourself, “Why am I doing this?” This requires a willingness to get to the heart of your motivation. If it’s something you really want to do or it’s part of your job, then of course you’ll want to take it on. But if your honest answer is that your primary motivation is to get someone else’s approval, then reconsider.
  2. As one of my marketing mentors, Dan Kennedy recommends, learn to give yourself your own gold stars. Don’t wait for someone else to give them to you. Recognize when you’ve done something well, and give yourself credit for it. Don’t minimize or discount your actions.
Your confidence and belief in yourself will grow dramatically as you learn to give yourself the positive strokes that you’ve relied on others for in the past.
"Other people's opinion of you does not have to become your reality." - Les Brown

“I don’t know the key to success, but the key to failure is trying to please everybody.” - Bill Cosby


  1. I really liked your treatment of this important topic. It isn't that easy to be an authentic human being. As you point, there are so many pressures to conform. The path of being true to yourself as you construct yourself can be difficult. What if people we care about are "displeased!" This is great encouragement.

    1. This reminds me of the story about a man, a boy and a donkey.

  2. Meredith, you are so on target! I constantly have to remind myself not to "over-give" so I have enough energy left over for myself. I think it's safe to say that many people have a hard time in finding balance between being self-less vs. self-ish. It's hard to learn how to say no, but once you're in the swing of it, life becomes a LOT easier! You've got to make time for you in life and in business!

  3. Denny and Lynn, Thank you for your additional insights about this important topic. It's a real challenge because as someone pointed out to me via Twitter, we're so conditioned to please others that it can be hard to break out of that pattern - we don't even realize what we're doing can have an adverse impact on US.

  4. Great post Meredith, and the words of encouragement really hit the spot. I also agree with Lynn, in that it can be hard to say no, but is worth it in the long run - leading to more self-respect and greater self-worth. Saying no can feel very uncomfortable, but if you treat it like any other action which we take to move out of our comfort zone to grow, it will be very rewarding too.

  5. Debbie, Sorry I missed you comment. I appreciate your positive feedback and your taking time to add your perspective. Good point about learning to say no

  6. Hi Meredith
    In my voluntary role, I regularly meet people who are seeking approval from others. They have not been shown how to find their significance outside of their own actions. I fully agree with everything you have said. There will always be a need of self-acceptance, as well as just "being". This is difficult to achieve independantly, so an individual will need the help of others to help them stand " on their own two feet" in this area.
    This is so complicated and to work through this issue may take a considerable length of time. For some, they have been practicing this for years. It will be a continual process to move away from this internalised need, but there is hope. I have seen many people move on from this. What I would say to people is "keep going" and don't be afraid to ask for help.

  7. Kate, thank you for sharing your experience in working with others on this important topic. You are absolutely right that it can take years for these changes to occur.

    A key reason is that the brain must re-wire itself with new thought and behavior patterns, and this requires repetition over a period of time. You may want to check out our online virtual coaching system, ProStar Coach, which addresses 40 personal strength areas (self-esteem, self-confidence, courage, composure, etc.) and helps people establish the neural networks required to master new skills and change their behavior:

    You can take a free virtual tour to learn what's included.

  8. Meredith, That's one of the hardest lessons to learn. I like your suggestion - ask yourself, “Why am I doing this?”. Sound like a great idea.

    Some of my favourite people used to be people pleasers, so we can all overcome it.


  9. This is true... i have realize that when i try to please people instead reaching my own satisfaction i get very disappointed.

    This is a good article that reminds me the importance of identity, the importance to knowing my self and examining the motivations that move me to act.



Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.