I saw a tweet about people pleasing a couple of weeks ago and its been doing laps around my brain. I am a self certified people pleaser. I’ve always enjoyed helping people solve problems. I also have a fairly firm belief that it’s nice to be nice. These are all obviously very useful traits in lots of contexts. Everyone loves the person who comes to the situation wanting to get stuck in and help, right?
Where it starts to become challenging is when you can’t scale your time to meet the number of people asking for help. Or perhaps it’s a small number of people that are just super demanding. Or perhaps the problem is larger than a single person can tackle and it requires a more systemic response.
The consequence of this is that, if left unchecked, it can start to generate a lot of negative intenal emotions. This is because of a stubborn belief that self-worth is mostly measured by the approval of others.
It can also frustrate others too, as from the outside it might look like making a lot of comittments that you’ve no hope of keeping due to being spread so thinly. A persistent people pleaser might develop a bit of a track record for this sort of behaviour.
There is also the reverse end of this issue, where always solving a problem FOR someone is actually depriving them of the learning, and so they’re doomed to repeat the same mistake again. Or, they know the same mistake will happen, but it’s okay because you’re on hand to fix it so absolve themselves of responsibility.
I’m not sure I’ll ever completely rid myself of my people pleasing trait., but I do try to temper it. I like to think that some portion of it can be a strength because I will tend to think outside of myself by default. However, I need to be careful about balancing that with my own needs. I have realised that in order to best help people around me, I need to be more intentional and focused in terms of where my effort is directed.
So for me that means being really clear about what I have the capacity to realistically do at the moment, and what I do not. I also try to think about sustinable solutions to problems. Is this a situation where we’re fixing the a symptom but not the root cause, therefore we’ll be having this conversation again in a matter of weeks or month which the situation arises again? I also try to spot areas where other people are best placed to solve the issue, if for no other reason that it is a better long term solution rather than me inconsistently dipping in and out to try to fix it.
For me, this very much speaks to boundary setting. I think this shows up in a few different ways in the day to day.
- Being open about with others about what you can and cannot do, and why.
- Being open about your goals and purpose.
- Being open about what is within your direct control and what’s not.
- Being open about the compromises you’re willing to make, and your red lines.
- Being open about what’s working well and what’s not and why.
- Being open about your health and well-being.
Now, I would acknowledge that this isn’t a silver bullet and just because you’re being open with others, doesn’t mean that everyone is delighted with the boundaries you are setting. And of course, there’s a right way and a wrong way to set boundaries. I’m am reminded of an old colleague who’s version of boundary setting was writing an email tirade and CC’ing in their senior manager each time they encountered something they didn’t want to do. Don’t be this person. I think disagreement can and should be respectful and kind.
Whilst I’ve talked a lot about personal responsbility here, I think it’s worth recognising that collectively we can help make it easier to establish healthy boundaries by talking about this stuff and recognising that even non-people pleasers benefit from having clear boundaries.
A healthy organisation that values its people would encourage this healthy boundary setting activity between individuals, so that the workload remains achievable, sustainable and truly collaborative.
Perhaps the ineverse of boundary setting is bridging boundaries. Which somehat ironically, having just banged on about the importance of boundaries, is the title of this blog. It’s something that strikes me as a fairly regular component of the work I do.. or at least the way I often approach it. No doubt driven by my people pleasing tendancies.
Perhaps it’s fixing the almost opposing problem where people and teams are largely considering their own needs and are siloed off from the world around them. The problems are at the boundaries, as the saying goes.
I don’t know an awful lot about systems convening, but of the small snippets I’ve seen thus far it really appeals to me. What does it involve?.. I hear you ask. Well, here are some snippets from NHS England on the topic..
- Creating and utilising adaptive spaces to increase connections, collaborations and knowledge flows across boundaries enabling spread and adoption of innovations.
- Supporting development of relationships, trust and learning partnerships and networks.
- Strategically coordinating spread across the local system helping focus on innovations of local system benefit.
- Supporting spread across a system and enabling early involvement of adopters helping to build a shared purpose.
In my context, I would see this as being most useful in terms of improving the use of technology across social housing. The barriers around good, modern, affordable tech are largely systemic and would really benefit from some of the bullet points above to make anyway headway on the issue.
Part of my Twitter network is in the process of standing up a community of practice of sorts, which I’m dead keen to be part of. System convening a systems convening group? How meta!
- Meetings *are* the work – https://medium.com/@ElizAyer/meetings-are-the-work-9e429dde6aa3
- The antidote to the anti-social enterprise – https://postshift.substack.com/p/the-antidote-to-the-anti-social-enterprise
- Disruption proof: How entire sectors avoid disruption – https://paulitaylor.com/2023/07/14/disruption-proof-how-entire-sectors-avoid-transformation