In defence of being a humble people pleaser

Posted by
Libby Heeley
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The pleasure is all mine… and yours, actually, says proud people pleaser, Libby Heeley.

Google people pleasing, and you’ll be met with an onslaught of tips on how to ‘regain your true self’ and ‘start doing you’. The French proverb goes that ‘the art of pleasing is the art of deceiving’ – but then I’ve always found the French to be rather aloof.

Personally, there’s little I haven’t done to please. I’ve mopped up endless tears in pub toilets, stayed out until countless 3ams when I would rather be in bed, and eaten Sahara-dry chicken just to save face with a slew of waitresses. Lord, I’ve taken one friend’s ADHD medication with him for ‘fun’. And why not, if it’s all in the name of friendship?

But listen. I know it sounds like a futile pursuit when written in black and white, but people pleasing really does have its virtues – for one and for all.

Let me explain… 

People pleasers are great for advice

happy woman

People pleasers are inquisitive souls. They’ll want to know your middle name, what you had for breakfast last Tuesday and why your Auntie June walked out on Uncle Steve. Why? Because, in the words of Mark Twain, ‘Plain question and plain answer make the shortest road out of most perplexities’. So, yes, they’ll harbour some pretty useless information – turns out Steve had intimacy issues – but also that fresh perspective you just might be looking for. 

Every office needs a people pleaser

For people pleasers, the glass is always half full. ‘Can’t’ is a non-entity. They say yes, but saying yes gets a bad rap. Yes isn’t always powerful; it doesn’t always break boundaries. 

At work, senior managers seem obliged to say no a lot, often shutting down proposals just to flex some authoritative muscle. But as your office yes-sayer will tell you, professional confidence isn’t always about being the first to send a SHOUTY EMAIL or dominate brainstorming sessions in the boardroom.

In fact, entrepreneurs and creatives like Tina Fey, Richard Branson and Steve Jobs have all expressed a version of the same advice: ‘Say yes first. Figure it out later.’ 

I speak to Fay Faragher, associate director of business operations at communications agency, Purple, about the notion of people pleasing on the job. She says: “We need to flip the idea that people pleasing is just another term for brown-nosing – it can be so much more than a way to curry favour with senior staff. 

“Showing willing to support our colleagues builds team morale and can cause a welcomed domino effect. We should all be saying yes to opportunities that will benefit the collective, no matter what our station.” 

Life is constantly presenting us with opportunities to grow, learn and do more than we currently are. Saying no may protect you or your team from failure, but it also prevents the possibility of great success. And while every idea might not be a brilliantly bright one, even a dull glow of an idea (met with a considered yes) can cast light on the next big thing. 

People pleasers will hook you up

people pleaser

When we’re young, it’s drummed into us that talking to strangers is a scary and potentially dangerous concept. But as adults, the reluctance to talk to people outside of our usual social circles could be limiting our experience of life in a pretty significant way.

A study by the University of Chicago’s Nicholas Epley, Ph.D. found that many of us still have a profound misunderstanding of the psychological effects of social interaction. We mistakenly place a premium on solitary activities (like aimlessly scrolling Instagram) and push the idea of chatting with strangers far down on our mental lists of what we consider enjoyable. Participants in the study predicted that fewer than 47% of fellow commuters would be willing to talk to them. Yet no one in the experiment who made the attempt was rebuffed.

Cue the people pleaser. Another fruit of their curious and approachable nature is a broad and varied social network. Looking for a new job, a place to crash, free entry into your next Saturday night out…? You get the idea. Oh, and they’re a hoot on a jolly too – unafraid to ask for directions in Joey Tribbiani-esque accents and more than willing to strike up conversation with that drop-dead-gorgeous concierge you’ve had your eye on since check in. Vamos de vacaciones?!

Of course, it’s important not to become a doormat in your quest to delight, and one must know their limits. I will always send back food containing hair of any description, and I now draw the line at taking drugs prescribed only to myself. 

But in the age of Brexit, Trump and constant online snark and vitriol, now more than ever, simple acts of friendship, kindness and pure intentions feel rare and much-needed. 

Images: Unsplash


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Libby Heeley

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