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People Pleasers on the Job

Sharing the office with a people pleaser can make your work life miserable.

While having helpful people around you on the job can often make work run more smoothly and lessen the load, some co-workers who strive to please other can actually get in the way of productivity. The "people pleasing" personality type that is described does not include all of those individuals who value being a part of a team and enjoying being part of the solution, not the problem. It is being used to describe those co-workers who try too hard and obsess too much about pleasing others.

Don’t people pleasers make others happy?

On the surface, it would seem that a co-worker who longs to please others might be a dream employee – he wants to do everything right and fears disappointing the people for whom he works. Yet, there is a definite down side to sharing office space with the people pleasers on the job. While it can be wonderful when colleagues go along to get along, jump in to assist when needed, and try to make everyone happy all the way up the chain of command, there are times when the people pleaser goes too far. There are some individuals who seem willing to subjugate themselves to others in a way that damages their reputation and their self-respect. By trying to be especially helpful, they may annoy other co-workers as well as their supervisors. Constant check-ins, doubting their own work, and needing constant "pats on the head" can get in the way of healthy workplace relationships.

Pleasers simply don’t realize the frustration they generate.

In some cases where a co-worker is being overly obsequous, the people-pleser may never realize the trouble they are causing as they assume that obedience and self-deprecation are the keys to approval. If you supervise a pleaser, you may have to have a one-on-one discussion of how “pleasing the boss” differs from “groveling and kowtowing to the boss.” Pleasers are a bit blind to the havoc or distress they create, as they are coming from a place of extreme helpfulness and deference to their employers.

Supervising a pleaser

Seldom would this type of worker move very far up the chain of command – she doesn’t send out any signals of her skills as a manager as she spends her time trying to please the managers around her. However, if you have a supervisee who is groveling at your feet, begging for forgiveness if they make even a minor mistake – such as leaving color paper in the copier, forgetting to turn off the coffeepot, or interrupting you at work, when your groveler is on one of her very first jobs, a little tough love may actually turn this colleag-emy into a highly valuable asset and employee. Unfortunately, if he is on the fifth or sixth position in his career, it may be fear of disapproval that keeps him groveling; this may be especially difficult to change if he was fired for poor performance on a previous job.

Working with a pleaser

On the other hand, if she is a colleague, and you can’t spend another day witnessing her self-abasement in her efforts to please the boss, then you might want to have a one-on-one, heart-to-heart conversation with her. Letting her know that her efforts at pleasing are sending a negative message rather than building her reputation as a valuable employee can be a very kind thing to do. Most people pleasers truly do want to please others and may actually take the constructive feedback to heart.

More from Suzanne Degges-White Ph.D.
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