How to Not Be a People Pleaser: Focus on Your Own Needs

Do you want to make everyone happy? How can you stop being a people pleaser?

There’s nothing wrong with wanting to help people and give back. Yet sometimes, people pleasing can turn into a negative trait that stops you from taking care of yourself.

Check out how to not be a people pleaser and focus on your own needs.

Pleasing Others

Helgesen and Goldsmith explain that women tend to focus too much on pleasing others. This is because society tells women to be caretakers—they must be empathetic and accommodating of others at all times. Women who focus on themselves and leverage individual opportunities risk being seen as selfish and manipulative. This causes them to neglect their own needs and desires, overlook opportunities for growth, and struggle to find effective solutions to problems.

(Shortform note: In Burnout, Emily and Amelia Nagoski add that societal and internal pressure to meet the “caretaker” standard causes women to neglect their own well-being and best interests. They add that when women partake in this behavior for too long, they risk burning themselves out mentally, physically, and emotionally—they become exhausted, they stop caring about things that were once important to them, and they struggle to connect with others. This impacts not only their career success, but also their ability to maintain important relationships and their mental and physical well-being.)

Helgesen and Goldsmith discuss two main detrimental behaviors that result from the desire to please others, and how to not be a people pleaser.

Behavior #1: Over-Accommodating

The authors explain that women’s desire to constantly please others often causes them to be over-accommodating. They may downplay their own emotions in an attempt to seem “professional” and not overwhelm men, but this causes them to lack authenticity. People who lack authenticity struggle to win people’s trust and inspire them, which can make it more difficult to progress in their careers.

Women may also struggle to make practical decisions if they’re overly focused on making everyone happy. For instance, they may struggle to say “no,” which causes them to stretch themselves too thin and makes them susceptible to manipulation. They may also struggle to solve problems because they’re more focused on pleasing everyone involved than finding sustainable solutions. 

For example, there may be an employee on the team who repeatedly shows up late and produces unsatisfactory work despite support and warnings. The most effective solution for the company both financially and productivity-wise would be to fire the offending employee and hire someone who meets their standards. However, if the employee is popular, a female leader who’s concerned about upsetting her other employees may struggle to fire them.

Finally, Helgesen and Goldsmith say that women tend to hyper-focus on the job they’re currently doing out of loyalty to their coworkers, boss, and organization, rather than striving for the job they want. This prevents them from honing skills and taking steps toward their ideal future and instead keeps them trapped where they are. For example, a writer may have worked under her current editor for five years and have a close relationship with her. She knows her editor relies on her to keep the magazine afloat. As a result, she spends so much time trying to produce stories for her editor that she never dedicates time to her true goal of being a fiction writer.

Over-Accommodating: The Solutions

Helgesen and Goldsmith provide a few solutions to help women stop over-accommodating.

1. Identify your emotions. The authors note that identifying your emotions when they arise will prevent them from escalating and impacting your behavior. For example, if you acknowledge that someone’s words frustrated you, you can then handle and express that emotion effectively rather than letting it grow into resentment for that person.

2. Express your emotions logically and concisely. Many women avoid expressing emotions because they don’t want to overwhelm men and seem unprofessional. However, the authors say that getting right to the point in as few words as possible will make your emotions easy to understand—and it’ll actually make you seem more professional and credible due to your authenticity. 

For example, if you’re upset because your colleagues continually talk over you, say something like “I’d like to bring to your attention that I haven’t been able to finish my last few statements before being interrupted. I understand everyone wants to share their ideas, but this is a bit frustrating at times. Let’s all try to allow each other to finish before speaking rather than cutting each other off mid-sentence—this way we get to hear everyone’s ideas.”

3. Solidify your career goals. Understand where you want to go and determine whether your intense focus on your current position is helping you get there.

4. Learn to say no and delegate tasks. Rather than saying yes to everyone and overworking yourself to the point of burnout, understand when to say no or delegate tasks. If someone asks you to do something that you don’t have the time for, be honest and tell them you can’t accept the task. If you have tasks on your plate that others can competently complete, delegate them so you don’t overload yourself.

Behavior #2: Failing to Utilize Social Networks

The authors explain that women tend to excel at building social networks but may struggle to make effective use of them. This is because using contacts to advance their careers and asking others for help makes women feel manipulative and selfish. However, utilizing contacts is a crucial component of advancing your career—asking others for support helps you accomplish immediate tasks and can also help you take steps toward long-term goals. 

For example, if you ask a coworker to put you in touch with their editor friend, you might receive input that helps you write a killer report. And moving forward, staying in touch with the editor might give you insights that will help you accomplish career goals like becoming a full-time writer.

Failing to Utilize Social Networks: The Solutions

The authors provide a few solutions to help women effectively utilize their social networks.

1. When building contacts, remember to be intentional. The authors explain that you should form professional contacts with those you can have a mutually beneficial relationship with. Make connections with people who have something to offer you and who you can offer something to in return. You don’t have to feel strongly about the person to make them a contact, you just have to get along and offer mutual benefits.

2. Let go of binary thinking. Overcome the belief that utilizing contacts for personal gain is manipulative by acknowledging that things aren’t black and white—just because you’re asking a contact for help with a specific topic doesn’t mean you devalue the rest of their abilities or personality. Utilizing contacts is a natural part of advancing your career—everyone should do it, so you shouldn’t feel bad about it.

How to Not Be a People Pleaser: Focus on Your Own Needs

Katie Doll

Somehow, Katie was able to pull off her childhood dream of creating a career around books after graduating with a degree in English and a concentration in Creative Writing. Her preferred genre of books has changed drastically over the years, from fantasy/dystopian young-adult to moving novels and non-fiction books on the human experience. Katie especially enjoys reading and writing about all things television, good and bad.

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