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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?” 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.” Navigating the chaos and leveraging your mind, body, and spirit 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. For example, in her August 19, 2017, Forbes article “10 Signs You’re Trying Too Hard To Please Everyone” Amy Morin identified the following character traits to watch out for as you engage in self-reflection:

  • You pretend to agree with everyone.

  • You feel responsible for how other people feel.

  • You apologize often.

  • You feel burdened by the things you have to do.

  • You can’t say no.

  • You feel uncomfortable if someone is angry at you.

  • You act like the people around you.

  • You need praise to feel good.

  • You go to great lengths to avoid conflict.

  • You don’t admit when your feelings are hurt.

“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.


In his best-selling book The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom, Miguel Ruiz, commented on this need to please everyone when he wrote “The reward feels good, and we keep doing what others want us to do in order to get the reward. With that fear of being punished and that fear of not getting the reward, we start pretending to be what we are not, just to please others, just to be good enough for someone else. We try to please Mom and Dad, we try to please the teachers at school, we try to please the church, and so we start acting. We pretend to be what we are not because we are afraid of being rejected. The fear of being rejected becomes the fear of not being good enough. Eventually we become someone that we are not. We become a copy of Mamma's beliefs, Daddy's beliefs, society's beliefs, and religion's beliefs.”


For today’s reflection, use the last 30 days as a reference point and consider answering the following questions. For example, during the last 30 days, how often did you try to please everyone?

  • How often do you try to please everyone?

  • How often do you pretend to agree with everyone?

  • How often do you feel responsible for how other people feel?

  • How often do you apologize?

  • How often do you feel burdened by the things you have to do?

  • How often do you struggle with saying ‘no?’

  • How often do you feel uncomfortable if someone is angry at you?

  • How often do you need praise to feel good?

  • How often do you go to great lengths to avoid conflict?

  • How often do you hold back on admitting when your feelings are hurt?

  • How often do you pretend to be what you are not in order to avoid rejection?

  • How often do you harbor the belief that you are not good enough for others?