People pleasing

Mark Sherman.

Are you a people-pleaser? You hear that term a lot these days, and it is not said as a compliment. It means that rather than doing what you truly want to do — which might be to walk all over people and treat them with the contempt you actually feel — you do everything you can to please them.

Actually, I think many of us are people-pleasers, and thank God for that. I mean what should we be? Should we be animal-pleasers? I guess a lot of people do prefer that. We all know those who would much rather spend time with their cat than with any of us. But some of us are allergic to animals, so what do we do? Should we be plant-pleasers? At least cats purr; what do plants do when they are being pleased?

Of course another approach is to be the opposite of a people-pleaser, and be a people-annoyer. Or perhaps a people-disturber. Believe me, you get much more attention this way. Look at the late Andy Rooney, for example. Do you think he’d have lasted so long and become so famous if every week on “60 Minutes” he’d talked about how wonderful everything is and how terrific people are?


Or you could be a people-pleaser in a strictly limited sense. There will be one person you will try to please and that person will be you. Remember this: Dale Carnegie’s famous book, which was originally published in 1937, has sold 15 million copies and still sells well is not How to Win Friends and Please People. No, it’s how to win friends and influence people. And this didn’t necessarily mean pleasing them. Sure, what you did might make people happy, but that was still in your best interests, not necessarily theirs. The subheading in one of his chapters is “Make the other person happy about doing the thing you suggest.”

Sounds kind of nice, but this is not people-pleasing; it’s you-pleasing.

In fact, some have taken issue with Carnegie, likening his methods to those of the 15th-16th century writer and political scientist, Machiavelli; and I have rarely heard of Machiavelli referred to as a people-pleaser. Rather he suggested ways of using people for one’s own ends. And as both he and Carnegie pointed out, the best way to do this is to make them happy to be doing what you want. Mark Twain showed the same thing when Tom Sawyer gets his friends to whitewash a fence he was supposed to do as a punishment by pretending it’s a fun thing to do.

Nowadays, whenever there is anything people may want to change, all they have to do is get on the Internet. If you do, you’ll find a site titled “21 Tips to Stop Being a People-Pleaser.” The writer cites all kinds of things from a book by Susan Newman titled The Book of No: 250 Ways to Say It – And Mean It and Stop People-Pleasing Forever.

Newman was interviewed on CNN several years ago, and the interviewer began by asking, “How do we turn the tide here? I guess it starts with the way we think. Give us some tips on that.”

I was surprised that she didn’t simply say, “No, I won’t.”

The kind of counseling that is used to help people learn to say no is assertiveness training. I once thought of a way to do such training that would be quite effective, and lucrative for the therapist. The client comes in for a first session that is modestly priced at, say, $40. But the next session, you inform the client that it’s now $60. Remember, you’ve got a people-pleaser here. He or she is not about to say, “Hey, wait a minute, are you kidding? That’s 50% up from last time?” No, your client will meekly say, “Okay, anything you say.”

So next time, you raise it to $80, and still there’s no protest.

Of course, even people-pleasers have their limit, so when, at the start of the fourth session, you say, “Today it’s $100,” even the most self-effacing, timid, acquiescent and people-pleasing person will say, “That’s ridiculous. In three weeks, the price has gone from $40 to $100. I’m outta here!”

To which you reply, “You are? Look at what just happened here. You’ve just said no!” So now you’ve got your client hooked, and for the next session you can charge $120.

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