The Courage to be Disliked: Break free from people-pleasing

November 10, 2022

The Courage to be Disliked: Break free from people-pleasing

“To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson

Knowing how to relate well with people and getting them to like you are skills leaders need to develop. You need to be liked to a certain extent, but the irrational need to be liked by everyone all the time can get in the way of effective leadership. You can’t please everyone–you are not pizza. And you definitely can’t please everyone all the time; even people get sick of pizza when they eat it every single day.

The most important thing we have to remember about leadership is it is not about us. Leadership is about the people we are leading. Your job as a leader is not to be buddies with your people. Your job is to make sure they succeed, even if you have to disagree with them sometimes.

Giving feedback and holding your team accountable will not always be a path of roses. People don’t like receiving negative feedback, even if they are open to constructive criticism. There will always be some form of friction, and it is your job to balance kindness with candor during those times.

People-pleasing is a real thing, and it can be a tough issue to deal with. Especially since it stems from deep-rooted feelings of insecurity and lack of self-esteem. Take your time to ask, “Where does my ‘need to be liked’ stem from? How is it driving my behavior and affecting the people around me? What can I do to manage this need without getting in the way of what I have to achieve?

Awareness of the motivations behind our unconscious behaviors is the first step to break free from people-pleasing. Here are other ways we can stop being a prisoner of the validation of others.

  1.  Own up to it

If you think you are a people-pleaser, or at least your people-pleasing ways are holding you back from what you need to do, as a leader and as a person, you need to own up to it.

You can’t overcome a challenge if you keep on passing the blame to others. Acknowledge that you need to make some changes. It is only when we want to change that we can start doing it.

  1.  Learn to say “No”

Saying “No” frees you to say “Yes” to other things. People-pleasers are automatic yes-sers. They are afraid to say no because they fear becoming a disappointment to others. However, your time and energy are precious limited resources that you can allocate to things that are actually serving you and your goals.

It is hard to learn how to say “no” outright. You can start small by saying no to waiters offering a new promo that you don’t necessarily want to try. Or you can practice roleplaying saying “no” with someone you trust.

Another way is to delay the “no” by saying “let me get back to you.” By delaying the no, you give yourself time to think. The goal is if you do say “yes” then make sure to give a well-thought-out yes.

In fact, studies have shown that this “delaying” tactic also works for decision-making and communication. According to a 2014 Columbia University study, sometimes you just need to pause for 50-100 milliseconds: use that time to focus on all the details and minimize distractions. That pause helps us make better, more rational, and well-thought-out decisions.

Don’t be scared of silence. It is also a powerful part of the conversation, and it empowers you and boosts your confidence.

Another small way to empower yourself is by changing your “I can’t” to “I don’t.” Saying “I don’t want to go” instead of “I can’t go” sets clearer boundaries. “Can’t” can sound flimsy, as if you are making excuses, but “don’t” sounds more sure and assertive. And the one thing that people-pleasers quitting people-pleasing need to protect is their boundaries.

  1.  Know your goals

One of the reasons why it is hard to say “no” is because we feel guilty. But, when we have something better to say “yes” to, it is easier to say “no” to others.

What are the things that really matter to you? What are your long-term goals and what are the things you can do now to get closer to those goals? When you are clear on the things that matter and what you need to do, it is easier to set your priorities straight.

  1.  Establish expectations up front

One way to manage your approval anxiety is by setting expectations and defining relationships upfront. When people know what to expect from you and what you expect from them, it is easier to respect each other, especially when inevitable disagreements come up.

It is a social contract of sorts to “agree to disagree” because we have specific roles to play. But it doesn’t mean the relationship can’t be meaningful and good. We can be kind to one another while still doing what we need to do.

  1.  Shift to your inner scorecard

When we get our validation and self-worth from others, we put our self-esteem outside our control. Who we are, what we want, and what makes us happy are things that are ideally defined by us, and improved as we interact more with others. Not the other way around.

Do activities that make you happy, and enjoy that happiness without guilt. Surround yourself with people who make you feel awesome even when you are not bending over backward to do things for them. And take control of your inner dialogue.

As leaders, it is important to be liked. But it is more important to be trusted. When the people you are leading trust that you know what you are doing and that you can lead them with clear direction, they will follow you, even when you disagree. Ultimately, what they need is a leader who can help them be successful in their work and someone who they can trust to be fair and consistent.

We all need a bit of courage to be disliked sometimes. Thanks for reading A Brilliant Tribe.