People Pleasing

Sometimes it's important to know when to say no -- especially if you are putting your own needs aside for the benefit of others on a regular basis.

Sometimes it’s important to know when to say no — especially if you are putting your own needs aside for the benefit of others on a regular basis.

Recap of Meeting 309

Last meeting we discussed the ADHD phenomenon of people pleasing — the idea that we agree to do things when perhaps it would have been better to have declined. Saying yes rather than no to a request  — or even offering to take on something that has not been directly asked of us – is something many ADDers have experienced, sometimes very frequently and it may have caused more harm than good for ourselves and others.

We brainstormed reasons why we might be motivated to people-please and this is what we came up with.

  • because we succumb to pressure
  • because we succumb to flattery
  • because we think it is more convenient to say yes rather than argue no
  • because it is an impulse to immediately say yes
  • because it gives us short term satisfaction to be of service
  • because we don’t want to upset others by saying no
  • because we want to avoid conflict
  • because we want acceptance
  • because we want to ‘save the day’
  • because we are ambitious
  • because we want to improve our abilities

What are some reasons that people pleasing might fail us?

We misconceive the amount of time, effort or complexity a task requires. This is an executive skill that ADDers have to work harder at and it doesn’t come naturally for us. Not being able to break a task down into its component steps right away gives us a skewed perspective of most projects and how they might play out. We live in the now, and in the now all we think about is saying yes or no.

We misconceive our ability to perform the task. Sometimes we have grandiose ideas of what we might be able to achieve. This isn’t to say that we are incapable of doing it — only that there are many variables involved that we don’t have a complete picture of when we agree to something. There are many tasks we could undertake that we will certainly excel at. But there are many that are outside our current abilities. Knowing these things about ourselves will help us better judge when to say yes to something and when to decline.

We overcomplicate the execution of a task. This can occur when something we are being asked to do is of interest to us or if we are really trying to impress someone. It can also occur when we are hyper-focussed or have perfectionist tendencies. We feel very strongly that we want to do the best job possible and over-think the whole thing, often to the detriment of the project. We forget to simply ‘do what works’.

We come out of the gate strong but our interest is not maintained and our effort wanes. This can occur with long term commitments. Sometimes it is a result of a project taking too long, perhaps longer than we anticipated. It can also occur if ‘the next big thing’ catches our attention and we’d really rather be doing that instead.

We have only said yes under duress or pressure and thus we are not motivated to put forth effort or time. You will know you are in this position if you feel anxiety, stress, fatigue, severe procrastination or any number of other signs. Many ADDers thrive under pressure and will succeed in this situation, even if they are not personally invested in the outcome. But there are others who become overwhelmed with the pressure and it can manifest physically and emotionally by way of their resistance to the idea that they MUST perform.

We are being taken advantage of by others. Sadly, this does happen. People who may not have our best interests at heart may maneuver us into taking things on that they simply don’t want to deal with. They may even know that we will not be able to have success or that it is outside our ability. They may be banking on our history of saying yes to things and they may even feel a sense of power at seeing us fail. This is certainly not true of everyone we come across, but it is something that occurs and we need to be able to recognize it.

What are some of the negative effects of people pleasing that can occur?

Disappointment. If we don’t achieve success, we will feel we have fallen short of expectations — those of others as well as ourselves.

Conflict. Sometimes when people pleasing goes bad, it can cause arguments, resentment and falling out. It can lead to problems in one’s personal and professional life.

Loss of self-esteem. When we don’t achieve success, we have a tendency to get down on ourselves and start the cycle of ‘why can’t I be like everyone else.’ It is self-perpetuating.

Overwhelm. When a task becomes too involved, we can become overwhelmed which carries with it a whole host of uncomfortable side effects.

Priority shift. Sometimes we can be so involved or invested in a people pleasing effort that we ignore or forget about our other obligations. This lack of balance can cause complications both personal and professional.

A venn diagram shows two intersecting circles, demonstrating the benefits that you and others can experience by donating your time and efforts to a worthy cause

People pleasing can be a beneficial boost to your self esteem and your life as a whole. But how much is too much and how can we ensure we are balancing how we are pleasing ourselves?

So now that we know all of this, what can we do about it?

We put it to the group to brainstorm ways of avoiding or getting out of the people pleasing situations.

Postpone the answer. If someone is asking you to do something, you don’t have to answer right away. Sometimes we get trapped in the idea that a request must be answered immediately, but this can lead to bad situations if we don’t give ourselves time to weigh options. You can simply and politely say you will get back to the person and then give yourself time to figure out whether it is reasonable to say yes or preferable to say no using a decision-making technique. It’s also a convenient method to get out some high pressure situations. You aren’t saying yes or no, but you are considering it, and this is often enough for some people to let it go for the time being.

Have a decision buddy. This is helpful for many people and it works well when you use the technique above. You can bounce ideas off of someone you trust and this will give you some insight as to what you should do in the situation.

Understand your abilities and limitations. This is sometimes easier said than done and it takes time to gain this knowledge if you don’t already have it. But being able to identify where you excel and have successes — as well as where you have fallen short in the past — is valuable experience to draw upon when you may be asked to be in similar situations again. You won’t want to have a repeat performance of a task you didn’t do so well at, so if asked to do so, you will have some conviction and reason to resist.

Understand the motivations of others. This is difficult sometimes, but thinking about it can help. Is the person you’re trying to please worthy of the effort? if they are asking you for something, what do they stand to gain? Do you feel obligated to comply because of some real or imagined authority they have over you?

Offer alternatives / negotiate. Maybe you know of someone else who would be better to take this on. Maybe you have a different approach than what is being put to you. You don’t always have to agree with whatever is put on the table, and you don’t always have to say no if you don’t like what you see. You can negotiate a yes that may satisfy everyone.

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