People Pleasing Has Got to Go
We all do it. But we can agree not to, and be better off.
By Wes Kennison
Writing about mindfulness is a touch more vulnerable than writing about my approach to crushin video projects, it represents my struggle as a human and the daily practice of being more present in the moment. Presence doesn’t come naturally to me without some intention, attention, and compassion pointed at everything that comes my way, but I believe that it’s the single most valuable thing I have offer my kids, friends, and peers. So here we go! This article will share some examples that are common side effects of people pleasing in the workplace, and shine a light on alternative approaches for any leader, manager, or team member.
Let’s start this off by nailing down my premise, one which represents a sharp truth to me, with the caveat that it may not resonate whatsoever with you, which is okay.
If you feel a pressure to please others at a cost to your own instincts and intuition, you will invariably be burdened with that inauthenticity, and it will manifest in seemingly disconnected ways.
- The anxiety you feel before an important meeting.
- The self criticism you give when you left a conversation awkwardly.
- The wordy explanation you offer about why the point you’re about to make (before you've even said it) might be wrong.
- The serial “I’m sorry” for anything and everything that *might* have left someone in the slightest state of discomfort, even though your intentions were pure.
- The incessant wordsmithing you do to every single post so people will think you’re smart. (gettin closer to home here 😬 )
If we acknowledge this reality, we’ve taken the first step. For me, I was SUPER resistant to the idea that I had a people pleasing problem. It took a global pandemic and an ensuing intense depression and an affiliated bout of marital issues and a hard look at myself and a sharp realization that I had a deep seated confidence problem that I didn’t even know existed to even ENTERTAIN the idea that I might have a people pleasing problem. So yeah, if you’re not there yet that’s fine, keep reading because I’m turning a corner here.
I’ll offer an analogy. We’re all creative pros here, and I’d venture to say that at some point we’ve all been subject to endless nitpicking of client copy of one flavor or another; web copy, print copy, video copy, it doesn’t matter, we’ve all seen it happen. Much of this nitpicking, at least in my experience, has to do with an inability to double down on communicating directly with a single buying audience. In other words, we want this thing we’re writing to communicate to groups x,y and z so we need to make sure that the language works for everyone simultaneously. Sound familiar? Have you ever seen this approach yield a finished product that deeply resonates? If you have PLEASE show me the example because in over a decade of Producing and Directing commercial scripts I’ve never seen it work.
My experience has been that when we shift the tone to one of accommodating EVERYONE we wind up connecting deeply with NO ONE, and the work ends up sounding like everything else in the space.
Seeing the connection? People pleasing turns our connections to others into the dishwater copy we’ve all seen at some point. Imagine if you showed the world ONLY your authentic self for a day. What would happen? Some people would love it. Some wouldn’t care. And some would hate it. Some would have problems with how you didn’t go out of your way to please them and help to manage their feelings around a particular topic. Why? BECAUSE THEY THINK THEY HAVE TO DO THE SAME FOR YOU. But if they gave themselves the freedom to speak transparently and directly and accept that not everyone has to love everything that everyone ever does, your workplace would improve. In terms of morale and in terms of the product your team makes.
So this is my challenge to you, regardless of where you sit in the hierarchy of your workplace, practice some radical candor. Print that graphic and make it known, “Insincerity and inauthenticity gets in the way of doing our best work, and I invite you all to join me in being compassionately direct."
Yes I know this won’t automatically work everywhere, office politics are a major force to be reckoned with, but ask yourself, is the alternative to being your unabashed self worth the toll it takes on your general sense of well being? The answer to that is always no, and if you can’t be that person at work where you spend the majority of your waking life it might be time to examine the toxicity of your workplace. Having been in a leadership spot for the last 20 years of my career, I WISH TO GOD that someone had come into my office 5 years ago, sat me down, and said “I have a possible solution for how we can work together better”, you might be surprised how your leadership will react. The beauty of this is that it doesn’t matter how they react, if you’re fired for being yourself you didn’t belong there, and you’re the only person who can seize that bull by the horns.
If you lead teams, free yourself of the burden you carry to manage how people feel, by giving them the license to do the same for you. I give and receive feedback for a living, and have acquired a particularly thick skin when it comes to hearing critiques about myself and my management style, if your team doesn’t feel they have the space to do that with you, stop what you’re doing and work on that, it’s the single most impactful move you can make in achieving an invigorated interpersonal dynamic, organically accelerated output, and a revitalized morale.