Bryan E. Robinson Ph.D.

The Right Mindset

What Personality Trait Turns You Into a Pretzel?

And how might it damage your self-esteem?

Posted Dec 04, 2020

“An appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile—hoping it will eat him last.” —Sir Winston Churchill

 Roksolana Zasiadko/Unsplash
You might think this habit will make you likeable, but it often backfires and can ruin your happiness.
Source: Roksolana Zasiadko/Unsplash

Conformity to certain policies and procedures is essential for organizations to function properly. Rules such as dress code, company benefits, state and federal regulations, work hours and so forth create operational scaffolding that builds common ground, good communication, team spirit, and harmony.

Most of us comply with these written and tacit rules willingly without a second thought. But it’s one thing to hold to rules and policy and quite another to fold yourself into a pretzel to gain approval from loved ones, friends, or coworkers.

When to Hold and When to Fold

There’s a point at which approval-seeking has a negative impact on how we’re viewed by others. People-pleasing is based on fear. A “yes person” is afraid of disapproval and avoids conflict by agreeing even when they don’t really agree. Appeasement leads to pressure to keep up the facade, but it has a short shelf life before others see through it. It’s important to know that line of when to hold or when to fold.

What about you? Have you sold out and leased your soul in hopes of being accepted or making a relationship work? Unfortunately, research shows that not only does that strategy not work, it backfires. When you’re afraid to speak up, disagree, say no, think outside the box, or stick your neck out in a creative way, you could be unwittingly sabotaging your happiness. Scientists report that nonconformists are not necessarily the rebels or troublemakers. They are individualists, more likely to work together for the greater good; whereas “yes-people” are less likely to do so because approval is more important to their self-esteem and security.

The Straight and Narrow Versus the Winding Road

In the "good old days," business was built on a motto that you live by the book and follow the straight and narrow. Many companies pigeonholed workers into narrow, tight roles forcing them to draw on their weaknesses and spend energy staying within strict confines that limited individual and company growth. If you didn't rock the boat and went along with the corporate culture, you could retire with the proverbial gold watch and live happily ever after. Not so anymore.

A 21st-century thriving company is one that encourages thinking outside the box, innovative ideas, and employee individualism. Studies suggest organizations that foster diversity, nonconformity, and inventive ideas allow employees to draw on their strengths and add to the prosperity of the company. Studies also show that when a company supports self-expression, individuality, and diverse ideas, you have higher engagement in your job. The company benefits from improved customer relations, greater innovation, and a thriving workforce that allows you to speak your mind and reach company goals in your own unique way, using your strongest talents and passions.

Don’t Let the Crocodile Feast Upon You

At the end of the day when all is said and done, no matter how hard you appease, someone will disapprove of something or disagree with you, and it's only a matter of time before the crocodile feasts upon you. Nobody has squatter’s rights in your head and heart unless you grant it. The Rx? Get comfortable with disapproval and disagreements and learn to face instead of avoiding conflict. Reclaim your self-respect, stand firm in your values and opinions, and be willing to speak up or say no. Be your own person, map your own goals and gauge your actions by your own standards, not by the approval of others.

Happy people constantly assess where they are on the spectrum between yielding and holding their ground. They don’t hesitate to ask what edge they can go to in their lives, get out of their comfort zones, and stick their necks out to move the needle in one direction. If you’re ready to take the risk to bloom in your life, instead of remain tight in a bud, it might be time to go against the fear of ridicule, rejection, or being labeled a troublemaker. Consider finding that one place in your life where you've been hiding and open pathways that allow you to thrive. When you ask what unpredictable bridge you can jump off to sprout your wings or what limb you can reach to get to the fruit of the tree, you don’t have to be afraid of the crocodile anymore.

This post also appeared on Forbes.com.