Pretty Little People-Pleasers


“I can’t tell you the key to success, but the key to failure is trying to please everyone.”  –Ed Sheeran

Looking back on my upbringing, I now recognize that I was constantly subject to the conditioning of societal norms from the very beginning – we all are, every day. One of those norms was gender-specific, and it was being a helpful, agreeable little girl. If you consider yourself a generally nice person that goes out of your way for others and avoids conflict, you probably fall into this category. Though the days of outright sexism and housewives are fading away, a diluted version of the same idea remains: females are expected to be agreeable, and more so than our male counterparts. But wait – being sweet and helping others is supposed to be good, right? Sure, but our good nature can easily be stretched to a detrimental extent. 

Now let’s fast-forward to real life. After I did some research, it turns out that that societal conditioning as a pleasant little girl is coming back to haunt us in our adult life. Here’s the secret: we say ‘yes’ too much. It was adorable as a child, but it can seriously cost us at this age in every sphere of our lives – professional, social, and personal. 

1. Women earn less than men per dollar because they don’t initiate salary negotiation. 

I don’t want to use this post to harp on the fact that women earn less per dollar than men. It’s a sad fact, but we now have to consider why it’s true: because women do not initiate negotiation. It’s actually been proven. Whenever we are offered a great full-time position, the societal conditioning kicks in and we immediately accept and thank the offerer. Before accepting graciously, however, women tend to miss out on the crucial step of playing hardball and talking salary.

2. Being a people pleaser will lead to weight gain.

Whoa, where did that come from?! Actually, it’s from this study. Basically, people pleasers feel the need to make others comfortable when they’re eating, so they eat too. This includes occasions when they’re not hungry or the food is unhealthy (i.e., Superbowl watching parties, office gatherings, etc). However, we do so at the expense of our waistlines. 

3. You are more subject to manipulation and disrespect.

Unfortunately, not every average Joe(lle) will be as nice or helpful as you are. In fact, when your answer is always a chipper yes, people begin to expect you to yield to them. UCLA psychology professor Dr. Marion Jacobs says that, you’re simultaneously “training someone how to treat you and training them not to respect your opinion.” This applies in all environments – at work, at home, or out with friends.

There we have it, a startling list of the implications of being a people pleaser. Now that we see how it costs us in all aspects of our life, what can we do about it? Here’s a more positive, proactive list:

1. Cut down on your passive verbal clutter.

People pleasers tend to ask for things like this: “I know it’s really short notice, and I’m sure you’re really busy… It’s just that Johnny’s soccer game got moved up, and Alec is working late on this new project, so I was wondering if you could help me [request].” Avoid the long justifications and explanations and begin your requests with ‘I would like’ or ‘I feel.’ Adjusting your body language so it’s less passive and more active will also make sure your message is taken more seriously.

2. Change your default “yes!” answer.

Instead, it should be something like, “Let me think about it and get back to you later.” Spontaneously adding major assignments to your to-do list means you’ll have to begrudgingly deal with the consequences on your own time and dime. You’ll end up resenting the person who asked for putting the burden on you – even though it was you that heaped it on your own shoulders. Responding this way gives you the physical and emotional space you need to make decisions with clarity. Just politely get back to them after considering your own schedule.

3. Get over the squirming feeling when you say “no.”

After glancing at that jam-packed schedule, the answer will sometimes be ‘no.’ And that’s okay. What’s not okay is the major internal discomfort you feel when you think about turning the person down. That’s normal, and it’s just proof that you’re a kind person. This takes will-power and time, so take it slow. Expressing your honest feelings and fielding possible conflict is vulnerable and scary for anyone. Recognize when you’re doing it, and know that you’re ultimately acting in your best interests.

There’s a little talk about how women are inherently less _____ than men, but I reject that. If we are really going to strive toward equality across the board, the only way we get there will be by demanding respect, not gently requesting it with a cherry on top. There is a fine line between feminine delicateness and professional graciousness. Like all things, it’s a balancing act – knowing when to be accommodating and when you can’t compromise. The million dollar question all along has been why women don’t get just as much as men. It turns out, a major reason was because we just had to ask for it. Who knew? ♦


Rachel Julie Huynh

The University of Texas at Austin



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