Probably the most difficult to manage employee (or coworker) is the "people pleaser."  If a job candidate uses the term "people pleaser" to describe himself or herself in a job interview, do not hire that person.

When somebody says "I'm a people pleaser," it's always with an air of apology, as if they're embarrassed that they sacrifice so much to make others happy. The remark, however, is a self-compliment masked as self-deprecation.

Understanding How They Think

People pleasers proudly position themselves (both publicly and in their own minds) as selfless and considerate, when in fact they're self-absorbed and controlling.

People pleasers pretend to be interested in other people's feeling but they're actually obsessed with how other people should feel about them, which is the exact opposite concept.

People pleasers take actions they believe you should appreciate, regardless of whether you have asked for those actions or not. They then expect you to be grateful for favors rendered and resentful if you ask for something else that you actually want.

For example, a people pleaser might stay late working on a report that's not due (or needed) for a week and then hand it in early because "he knew you would appreciate having it early."

To the people pleaser, it doesn't matter whether or not you actually wanted the report early.  To the people pleaser, you now owe him something because he's worked overtime to "please" you.

Therefore, if you assign that employee a difficult project, he will accept the project (to "please" you, of course) but feel justified in doing a slipshod job because (after all) he "worked overtime and didn't even get a 'thank-you.'"

Here's another common example: the person who appoints herself as the office morale booster, spending large amounts of time and energy on birthday cards, anniversary gifts, snacks in the break room, etc.-- rather than doing work that actually needs doing.

In the opinion of the people pleaser, you should feel grateful that she's raising the morale of the organization, even if you believe that her efforts are a distraction from what you want and need done.

Later, if you present the people pleaser with a less-than-glowing performance review, she'll be surprised and offended because (after all) she's "given so much to this organization."

Despite their belief that they're trying to please other people, people pleasers are always working their own agenda while simultaneously trying to make others feel indebted.

For instance, the employee who handed in the (unneeded) report early may have done so because he wanted to clear his calendar.  Similarly, the office morale booster undoubtedly enjoys socializing more than doing actual work.

How to Deal

If you're not aware of what's going on and you genuinely care about the people who work for (or with) you, it's very easy to get caught up in the people pleaser's skewed viewpoint.  They're very good at veneering their desires with ersatz martyrdom.

If you find yourself stuck with a people pleaser, the only solution is to be blunt and very specific about goals and measurements.  This can be difficult if your corporate culture assumes that self-motivated people will do the right thing.

A huge word of warning: if you ever feel "guilty" or "demanding" when setting goals for the people pleaser or holding his or her feet to the fire, you're getting caught up in the people pleaser's head game.

As I said before, the easiest way to deal people pleasers is to not hire them.  If you're stuck with them, set up up circumstances so you can move them out of your organization if they can't change their behavior.

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Published on: Oct 8, 2013
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