A few weeks ago, I wrote an article titled Stop Being a People Pleaser that sparked a huge discussion based on a comment by someone who is not naturally inclined to feel like making other people happy. Here was his initial question: I’d love to see an article taking the opposite position: How do I start pleasing other people and caring about their needs? I’m kind of a cynical, misanthropic [jerk] and apparently that’s not OK in most lines of business. Do I change, or do I find a new line of work?
Lots of people jumped in to give their advice in response to Dave’s inquiry. Through the course of their comments and Dave’s replies to their comments it became clear that Dave was actually pretty good at acting nicely towards people. But he found it draining to have to behave in a way that was not congruent with his underlying feeling toward another person. So for instance, he really does care about and enjoy the individuals in his inner circle, but struggles with having the same level of desire to do nice things for people beyond that group.
The comments were excellent — I recommend you check them out — but this article is an effort to shed some light on these two types of people and to hopefully provide some empowerment for those who more often feel like pleasing themselves more than others. To start, I’ll outline the two different perspectives so that we have a clearer understanding of how these two different sets of people approach the world. Then we’ll move into a way to go beyond pleasing to living with intention. Please add in your comments below. This is a complex topic that requires our collective wisdom.
The People-Pleaser and Self-Pleaser Perspectives
To start, I think it’s essential to recognise that these two groups of people — the people-pleasers and the self-pleasers — are experiencing and interpreting life in a different way. Just like planners and spontaneous people can wrongfully accuse one another of being inconsiderate jerks until they understand the other side (I cover reducing time-caused drama extensively in my upcoming book, the people-pleasers and self-pleasers can end up downright angry until they “get” the opposing viewpoint.
Much of this has to do with innate personality and natural tendencies. Having an inclination in one direction or the other doesn’t make you a good or a bad person — it just is. People-pleasers literally get an emotional rush from making another person experience positive emotions and self-pleasers generally don’t. Given the uniqueness of each individual, not everyone clearly falls into one or the other category. But to start to have a sense of each end of the spectrum, here’s an overview of the two perspectives.
Should Life Really Be About Pleasing?
As came out in the various comments, Dave’s question didn’t actually centre around how to act nicely — he knew how to behave appropriately. But he wondered how to not only display the right external behaviours but also to have them seem congruent with his internal state. This emotional dissonance, particularly in his work left him emotionally drained.
Trying to be a people pleaser is not the answer. Natural self pleasers can’t force themselves to feel something that they don’t actually feel.
In fact, I don’t think that going about life focusing on only pleasing ourselves or only pleasing others is really the way to be our best selves and make the best contribution to the world. Both are a knee-jerk emotional responses to stimuli. Instead, I believe both sides can benefit by redefining authenticity and choosing to live our lives based on our values not our feelings. Here’s how Leslie Williams, the author of Grit and Grace, reframed what it means to be authentic:
Many people equate being authentic with being emotionally transparent. Defined thus, the authentic move in response to anger might be to give someone a piece of your mind. In a conflict, it might be to tell someone that they’re being selfish and short-sighted. This kind of honesty has its place; it can clear the air and let people know where you stand. But it can also backfire: escalating conflict, eroding trust and damaging reputations. You’re smart to be wary of that.
What if we defined authenticity differently: not as transparency of our thoughts and emotions, but rather as “speech and actions that arise from our deepest values”? That’s a very different proposition. It takes discipline, effort, and self-awareness. While this kind of honesty is more difficult, it allows us to honour ourselves and connect us with others, both at a deeper level.
So in the case of someone who works with customers on a regular basis but doesn’t naturally fall into the people-pleaser category, they could either “fake” being nice and inside feel frustrated that they don’t genuinely feel an attachment to the other person. Or they could decide that one of their values is to make each person they interact with feel like the most important person in the world. Then from that personal value about the impact they want to make on each person, they could authentically display that level of care and service to everyone.
Empowerment for the Self-Pleasers
Beyond redefining authenticity, these strategies can help natural self-pleasers to feel more inclined to want to act in a helpful way toward others:
Do things not because of who they are but because of who you are: If you base your actions on what you perceive as the worthiness or unworthiness of another, you will be in a state of constant judgement of others and struggle over your sense of obligation to them. However, if you choose to be kind, be thoughtful, and serve because you desire to be a kind, thoughtful, and service-oriented person, then you can accept and respect all others as worthy of your kindness.
Assume they don’t know: Most people don’t wake up in the morning thinking, I really want to annoy everyone around me. Always assume people don’t know that something really bothers you unless you’ve explicitly told them it’s a problem. It’s also essential to keep in mind that something that may be obvious or common sense to you, may not be clear to someone else. This could result from differences in age, experience, intellect, personality or any number of factors. Also, you may have the ability to see when people are “faking” something, but many people don’t have this emotional x-ray vision.
Assume you don’t know: You may think that you know why someone did what they did or what they meant by something. But until you actually ask them, you don’t really know their motives. Maybe a lack of response to your greeting had more to do with the fact that they didn’t sleep well the night before and were half asleep than that they simply wanted to ignore you. Assume people didn’t intend to make you feel badly. Also remember that how you feel about an action has more to do with your current mental and emotional state than the action that happened.
Avoid criticism and contempt: You may have some legitimate complaints about people’s behaviour but you want to avoid criticism — over generalising that complaint to an indictment of their overall character — or contempt where you display disgust toward them. Both unfairly simplify the complexity of an individual (we all have times when we’re not on our best behaviour) and make it really difficult for you to feel like behaving in a positive manner toward the typecast party.
Take care of yourself: Even people-pleasers can lose their desire to do things for others when they feel burnt-out. If you start to feel resentful or frustrated, figure out what you need to do to take care of yourself: get some sleep, go on a run, watch a funny movie, talk with a friend, or do something else that you find refreshing. Filling yourself up emotionally will give you a greater capacity to give to others.
Recovery When You Get Ticked Off
Even with your best efforts, people can really tick you off — especially if you’re a self-pleaser. But the fact that you’re upset isn’t a sign that you don’t care about people — it actually means you care a great deal. If you truly didn’t care, you would experience indifference toward what others did or didn’t do.
Both sadness and anger are expressions of deep hurt. So you’ll feel better faster and have a much greater desire to treat others well when you focus on taking care of yourself after you become angry instead of stirring up the anger by looking for revenge. Go through these three steps to recover quickly:
- Validate your feelings. If you feel angry, upset, violated or disrespected, acknowledge and validate your feelings. Even if the person didn’t mean to make you feel all those emotions, you felt them and your experience of the situation matters.
- Forgive the other person.Regardless of whether people ask for forgiveness, you can give it to them for your own sake. Simply in your mind, or if it helps you in writing, state, “I forgive you [Name] for [action or in action] which caused me to feel [emotion].”
- Set boundaries.To the degree that you can do so, set boundaries on interactions with people that repeatedly cause you harm. This could mean establishing certain policies about customer engagement, not interacting with certain customers and/or finding a new job.
By regularly engaging in this recovery process, you’ll come from a much stronger, emotionally healthy place or interacting with everyone.
So there you go Dave Myers… you can redefine authenticity, empower yourself, and recover more quickly. Now over to everyone else, what’s the cure for self-pleasers looking to please others more?
Elizabeth Grace Saunders is a time coach, the founder of Real Life E Time Coaching & Training, and the author of The 3 Secrets to Effective Time Investment: How to Achieve More Success With Less Stress. Find out more at www.ScheduleMakeover.com.