Why People Pleasing Causes Resentment

By Ann Elliott

People pleasers cannot be trusted. When they are telling you what you want to hear, it validates them as being helpful. Agreeing with the leader puts them in the good graces of the power broker. It’s a problem because they’re not required to come up with any counter-solution or ideas to improve the organization, for example. The leader of an organization needs to know how an initiative might be detrimental instead of useful. With only “yes people” to rely on for better solutions, the organization is at the mercy of the leader, quite a limited resource. The “yes people” are so busy saying yes to the needs of others, they neglect their own. It is easy to understand why this causes them to be resentful.

I am reminded of Malcolm, a member of a team, who was so busy saying “yes” to the CEO that he didn’t execute any of the work he was hired to do. His colleagues learned not to trust that he would fulfill his commitments to the team. He had no boundaries. No one knew with certainty what he wanted and needed. This situation invites bullies to take advantage of people pleasers. Often the bully is so skillful at manipulation the people pleaser does not recognize what’s happening until they are overwhelmed. They wonder why they feel anger and resentment when, after all, they were merely trying to help.

Why Organizations Leave a Lot on the Table

People are hired to work in an organization to help achieve the organization’s goals. They bring their experience, expertise, and talents to the work. If they are merely saying yes to the leader they’re not exercising those talents. The organization is not gaining the full benefit of the skills of the people they hired to do the work. The organization is leaving a lot on the table. In fact, not only is the organization getting the short end of the stick, but the employee is also setting themselves up for burnout.

The underlying need for validation through the approval of others creates a no-win situation for the people-pleaser and the team/organization. If your value is predicated on the approval of others, you are at their mercy. This reminds me of an instance when I was making a proposal to a large state agency for some consulting work with a division director and his team. After I provided the description of the work, the benefits to him/the team/the agency, and the anticipated outcomes, I told him what I expected to be paid for the work. He was enthusiastic about what I proposed to do.  For the sake of argument, let’s say $8,000 was the amount I quoted. After a slight pause, he said, “Yes, I want to do everything you outlined. However, this is above what I wanted to spend. Can you do the project for $6,000?” Without missing a beat, I asked, “What would you like to remove from the scope of work I’ve outlined for you?” The division director accepted the proposal as presented and he was pleased with the outcome.

Leaders Get Better Outcomes When Opposing Views are Considered

For the leader, consider how the opposing opinions of others could improve your ideas. Be willing to release a favored project or idea with new information to create an even better idea. Look to people at all levels of the organization for ideas as well as dangers. These folks have a different vantage point than the leader who doesn’t experience the day-to-day work. Create an environment that invites everyone to contribute. People who do not feel safe or respected are not willing to risk taking a different point of view. They focus on protecting their job instead of improving the organization. They value their reputation as a “team player” more than advocating for a contrarian view.

People Pleasers Who Take a Stand Gain Credibility

For the pleaser, with blameless discernment, examine your own needs. Ask yourself why you are willing to have others spend your time. Always putting the needs of others before your own, is an engraved invitation to bullies who willingly harm others to get what they want. With clarity about your values, you can choose to work in an organization that is aligned with what you value. Stand firmly on the conviction that you are worthy of respect and of the compensation you deserve. In the long run, you gain more credibility because people know where you stand. They can trust you because you have been open about your needs. 

The Choreography of a Thriving Business 

The choreography of a strong leader and engaged workforce is a marvelous thing to witness. As they keep time to the rhythm of the business, both partners listen to each other and move smoothly in sync. Neither tries to outdance the other but rather fills their respective roles with ease and grace. There is no need to dominate the partnership with unequivocal control or self-effacing pleasing. 

©2023 Ann Elliott

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Ann Elliott

Ann Elliott, founder of The Berkana Company, excels at leadership strategy

An expert at helping business leaders enjoy more profits and improved productivity with less stress, she blends fun and excitement with executive coaching and training to yield results for her clients.

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