How often do you try to please everyone?

Today is March 31 and the Navigate the Chaos question to consider is “how often do you try to please everyone?” Navigating the chaos and practicing the art of living well often involves making some people unhappy. Since people choose to be unhappy there is little you can do about their unhappiness. You can, however, remind yourself that trying to please everyone is a sure0fire way to not navigate the chaos or practice the art of living well. There is a growing field of research in people-pleasing for personal growth and professional development.

Amy Morin is one researcher on personal growth and author of 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do. Morin has identified five things that a people-pleaser often does. First, a people-pleaser never says no. Saying yes to everyone’s requests means you’re saying no to something you may want to pursue. If you are afraid of saying no and letting someone down, have you thought about what saying yes to someone else does to your own dreams?

Second, a people-pleaser struggles to make decisions as the sound of everyone’s voice tends to drown out your own voice. How can you hear yourself think if you are allowing everyone’s voice inside your head? People-pleasers seldom ask for help as doing so is often a sign of weakness. If a people-pleaser invest all their time and energy into saying yes to others, it may be difficult to live according to their own values. Finally, people-pleasers often fail to set healthy boundaries.

“Saying No has always been important,” says William Ury in his book, The Power of a Positive No: How to Say No and Still Get to Yes, “but perhaps never as essential a skill as it is today.” For Ury, the importance of No was reinforced to him by a conversation with the well-known investor and financial sage Warren Buffett. Over breakfast, Buffet told Ury:

“I don’t understand all this Yes stuff. In my line of business, the most important word is No. I sit there all day and look at investment proposals and say No, No, No, No, No – until I see exactly what I am looking for. And then I say Yes. All I have to do is say Yes a few times in my life and I’ve made my fortune.”

Ury realized that “No is the key to defining your strategic focus and every important Yes therefore may require a thousand Nos.” Recognizing the delicate balancing act between yes and no, Ury concluded “the great art is to learn to integrate the two – to marry Yes and No. That is the secret to standing up for yourself and what you need without destroying valuable agreements and precious relationships.”

In terms of people-pleasing and professional development, Ron Askkenas and Matthew McCreight published research in The Harvard Business Review on the concept of 'getting to no' in the workplace. “Getting to no” is a classic management issue because the vast majority of us tend to accept requests and assignments without first filtering them by what’s possible, what’s urgent, and what’s less of a priority.

In an age when we are encouraged to be “team players” and responsive to colleagues, it may seem counter-intuitive or even selfish to encourage managers to say no more often, but that is exactly what many need to do. While saying yes to every assignment may initially please senior execs, it usually leaves people over-stressed and inundated with work — a lot of which ends up half-finished or forgotten. In the long run, no one is happy.

As U.S. editor and journalist Herbert Bayard Swope wrote “I can’t give you a sure-fire formula for success, but I can give you a formula for failure: try to please everybody all the time.”

How often do you try to please everyone?