While it is understandable to want to avoid rejection, red flags should go up if you feel an intense need to put other people’s needs before your own. People pleasers who are compulsive will go to great measures to win people over and are a good example. Their desire for stability overrides their ambitions and impulses due to their dependent mentality, and the way they present themselves mirrors how they think other people want them to be rather than who they really are. They typically have a long history of employment, are intelligent, effective team members, and considerate of others’ needs. They serve as the leader’s followers, the creatives’ audience, and the problematic co-worker’s listening ear.
They seldom ever argue with co-workers and, in many respects, serve as the foundation of organizations. Their emotional antennae are tipped more outward than within, though. They are less aware of their own internal environments when they are tuning into other people. They repress their feelings and beliefs, lose track of their goals, and—most concerningly—disconnect from who they really are.
While their co-workers gain from their generosity, they ultimately lose out because they are unable to reach their full potential or experience the fulfillment that comes from a job well-lived.
They stop thinking for themselves and start relying on their supervisors and co-workers to make decisions and even think for them. Companies lose out on their distinctive talents despite benefiting from their persistent, cooperative work. In this way, the cycle of gratification and dependence picks up speed.
Thoughts lack energy when they are not expressed verbally, which inhibits change and development. To break out of this pattern, motivation is essential. Internal conflict develops when the need to please conflicts with one’s goals. Although this tension is unpleasant, it can inspire the will for change.
If one is willing to confront and resolve these tensions and ambiguities, one can progress personally and professionally. Santosh, a 35-year-old unmarried man who worked in digital marketing, experienced this. His wit and charm provided the ideal cover for his deeper fears, which were nevertheless very close to the surface.
He had to deal with the tension between trying to please people and succeeding because of a promotion. Throughout my whole life, I’ve used pleasing others as a means of preventing rejection. This helped him in his early jobs, but when he was elevated to a leadership position, his fear of being rejected made it difficult for him to make difficult decisions and have uncomfortable conversations.
I was curious to learn more about his predicament. Can you describe how your worries affect how well you function at work? He stated, “It’s inhibiting because the choices you make are layered with lots of considerations about how the other person might feel, or react, or how they might be inspired to speak against you, or how they might recruit others against you.” To make up for it, you either soften what you’re going to say or disguise your own intentions so as not to offend them. That implies that you are less effective and productive. I keep my mouth shut if there is even the slightest potential that they might be upset. You don’t want to take the chance of offending someone since they might leave or convince others to leave as well.
You’re not being honest if you’re worried about whether they’ll think poorly of you. As a result, you feel awful about yourself and they think you should be communicating with them directly. The fact that he was always expecting the next threat because of his hypervigilant state of mind was undoubtedly concerning.
“Staying on high alert often puts you on the verge of an anxiety attack, and your irrational concerns about others mean you betray yourself,” I advised him. He replied, “If you take people on, then you’re making enemies.” You figure out a means to avoid doing this by attempting to boost other people’s self-esteem. You repress your own personality at the same time. Everything is premeditated; it’s a performance. This is what makes it exhausting because you’re trying to project an image that will prevent rejection.
I told him that despite his new, higher-ranking position, he continued to feel that others—whether subordinates, colleagues, or clients—held sway because they had the authority to reject him. His self-confidence suffered as a result, and he forced himself to work harder to prove his value, but the long hours were making him burn out. He was prone to misinterpret circumstances, seeing risks where none existed, or get distracted so much that he overlooked a real threat.
He acknowledged, “I’ve either not taken something seriously when I should have, or I’ve been prepared for a fight when I simply misread the signs.”
His apparent compassion for other people was actually a coping mechanism for deeper emotional traumas from his early years.
In reality, trauma is an emotional and physical reaction to any traumatic incident. By numbing intense emotions like sadness, helplessness, or fury, the mind hurries to shield the person from overpowering emotions. However, these encounters leave a lasting impression on the way we think, relate to others, control our emotions, and process our experiences by leaving traces in our memories, emotions, unconscious, and even in our bodies.
This includes how we perceive things and respond at work.
This was the situation with Santosh, who was born following his mother’s miscarriage of two previous children, and who grew up to be the center of attention for his mother and everyone else at home. He realized as he got older that people did not adore him as much as they had when he was younger. Contrary to what he had come to believe, the world was very different. As a result, he developed a strong desire to win people over so that he could receive their full attention. He eventually developed an obsessive need to appease others.
Alas! It was starting to take a toll on him.
- Do you often compromise your own goals and agendas in order to not offend others?
- How has ‘people pleasing’ affected your role as a leader or when you grew into a leadership role, both at home and in office?