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The Pitfalls of People-Pleasing: Navigating Others’ Expectations

In the intricate dance of social interactions, women often find themselves walking a tightrope between fulfilling societal expectations and staying true to themselves. From the boardroom to the living room, the pressure to “people please” can be overwhelming, uncomfortable and exhausting. Putting our needs or preferences behind others’ and being selfless become our everyday behaviours. Anything else makes us feel guilty like we’re disappointing those around us and somehow not good enough.

The Perils of Pleasing: A Balancing Act

For many women, the need to please others starts early in life, shaped by societal norms and cultural expectations. From a young age, girls are often taught to be polite, accommodating and nurturing – behaviours that are reinforced and praised throughout their lives. While these qualities can be valuable in fostering relationships and building rapport, they can also become a double-edged sword, leading to the suppression of who we are authentically and what we need to thrive and succeed.

In the workplace, women leaders may feel pressured to conform to masculine standards of achievement and leadership, masking their natural inclinations to avoid being perceived as weak or incompetent. This can lead to burnout, imposter syndrome and a lack of opportunity to progress.

The High Cost of Approval Seeking

Research has shown that women are more likely than men to engage in people-pleasing behaviours, even when at their own expense. A study by the Harvard Business Review found that women are more likely to say “yes” to requests for help, even when it negatively impacts their own workload and productivity. Sound familiar?

Moreover, the pressure to please others can take a toll on our mental and emotional well-being. Constantly seeking external validation can lead to feelings of anxiety, self-doubt, and resentment, as such we struggle to balance our needs with the expectations of others. The world needs more women to move up the leadership ladder and bring more feminine talents, such as creativity, collaboration and empathy, into their leadership teams. Yet, managers who reward and praise these behaviours, and moreover rely on our abilities to people please actually guarantee the reverse.

Breaking Free from the Pleasing Trap

So, how can you break free from the cycle of people-pleasing and reclaim your power? It starts with self-awareness and self-compassion. Recognising your patterns of behaviour that contribute to people-pleasing tendencies is the first step towards change.

Setting boundaries is another essential aspect of navigating the complexities of interpersonal relationships. Learning to say “no” when necessary and prioritising your needs is not selfish but essential for personal growth and well-being.

Embracing Authenticity: The Path to Empowerment

Ultimately, true empowerment comes from embracing authenticity and owning one’s worth and value. Women leaders must recognise that they have the right to assert themselves, express their opinions, and advocate for their needs, both in the workplace and beyond.
As Arianna Huffington once said, “It’s not about balance, it’s about blending and integrating your personal and professional life.” Women leaders must strive to find harmony between their professional ambitions and personal priorities, without sacrificing their authenticity or well-being in the process.

What can you do?

In a world where the pressure to please others is ever-present, women leaders must learn to navigate the complexities of social expectations with grace and resilience. By embracing authenticity, setting boundaries, and prioritising self-care, you can reclaim your authentic power and drive your success on your own terms.
In April, the next cohort of SOAR: Take Flight & Lead begins and we’d love to invite you along to our two upcoming masterclasses, focussed on kicking people pleasing to the curb.

They are on Tuesday 19th and 26th March 2024 at 1900 GMT and will be a little taster of SOAR magic, offering you some new insights and tools, as well as connecting you to women, who just like you want to move forward on their terms. To join, simply RSVP here and we’ll pop the links over.

(Want to know more about the programme? Head here.)