By Lybi Ma, published on July 1, 2005 - last reviewed on June 3, 2013
We spend a lot of time seeking approval—from our parents, spouses, children, co-workers and the neighbor down the street. If you put on your best shirt, biggest smile and most polite demeanor, you will win everyone over. The thing is: This approval-seeking business takes a whole lot of time and silly effort, and it's unlikely you will get the approval you want anyway.
Just imagine yourself on the receiving end of an approval seeker. Picture yourself discussing a business deal with such a person. He uses big words, he keeps running his fingers through his hair and he isn't really listening to you. More than that he seems disingenuous; in fact, his smile looks phony too. You walk away seeing right through him, and you wonder who he truly is.
Approval seekers are off-putting. Unfortunately, we all do it to a lesser or greater degree. In fact, take a moment to see how you fare. You are about to meet your girlfriend's sister. Are you mapping out what jokes to tell? Does your hand look better in your pocket or out? When you do meet, you are feeling pretty anxious. You may even be panic-stricken because she looks bored. Then you struggle to think of a way to make a better impression.
What are you seeking? Maybe you want your girlfriend's sister to think you are great, funny, smart and cute. Maybe you want her to love you. After your meeting, though, you probably feel like you ran a mile. But do you really think she got to know you? No. Your authentic self was nowhere to be found.
There are ways to stop seeking approval and get on with life. Here are a few tips to keep in mind:
Stop the chatter: We walk around listening to our inner dialogue. "Did I seem smart to her?" "Why wasn't she laughing?" And then the negative self-talk takes over. "I should have worn my blue turtleneck." "I could have said blahbiddyblah." It's best to stop the endless chattering and leave yourself alone.
Stop interrupting everyone: When a person is talking, do you finish his sentence for him? You may feel you have something clever to say at that moment, and you don't want to miss the chance to make a good impression. Yet when others interrupt you, you find it downright rude.
Quit tuning out: Often we pretend we are taking in everything a person says, but instead we are fretting over our bills or thinking about what to make for dinner. Or maybe we are just waiting for a moment to break in and say something smart.
Listen, really listen: When you actually listen, you may feel like you are confused. That's because you're not used to listening. If you truly listen, you might find that the person talking is indeed very interesting.
Mind your manners, for real: Some of us say, "Excuse me" or "Sorry" or "Thank you." But do we really mean it? Are we really showing heartfelt gratitude and consideration? Or are we trying to, again, make a good impression?
Quit being agreeable: Sometimes when we seek approval, we are overly agreeable. "Sure, I like spicy food." But often we do what others want, not what we want. All for the small hope of making others like us.