Super-agreeables are people pleasers – compliant, sweet folks who never want to upset others but who end up doing just that. They lead us to believe they’re in total agreement with our ideas or requests, only to let us down when we expect them to do what they said they would do. These friendly, willing types make unrealistic commitments in their efforts to accommodate us because of their fundamental desire to be liked by everyone all of the time. They understand promises but have no clue about commitments.
Super-agreeables are the ones whom I label “Yes People” in my recently relaunched book. They are terrified by the possibility of an open confrontation ensuing from our annoyance with their inability to deliver on promises made. The problem is we don’t quite know how to convey our frustration, impatience or anger without upsetting them even more. And who among us would want to deliberately upset such lovely people? Beware: while this behaviour can appear as the essence of niceness, it can also be passive-aggressive and manipulative.
To play the game with people pleasers, we need to make it easy for them to say no. We must continually reassure them our friendship is not at stake. In their eyes, unadulterated compliance is a fail-safe approach to soliciting our approval or, in some cases, our affection. They learned this lesson in early dealings with parents and other authority figures. So tell them the obvious: “Good friends don’t always see eye-to-eye on everything.” While none would deny its validity, super-agreeables must hear this message frequently.
Don’t get sidetracked by their use of self-deprecating humour or personal put-downs. These responses are designed to make us more accepting of their inability to deliver. Whether consciously or not, all behaviour is purposeful: it’s a learned response because it has worked so well in the past. Belittling themselves is an involuntary reaction to those whom they seek to please.
Expect the self-disparagement but counter appropriately: “That’s just not true Mary and I think you know it.” If people pleasers are incapable of attending to their own self-esteem, we need to give them explicit permission to do so. Encourage them to disagree without eliciting resistance, retaliation or disapproval. That is what they fear most.
Anticipate and learn how to counter their favourite expressions – sayings like “No problem” or “I’ll try my best.” Experience has told you these responses are early warning signs that signal a failure to follow through on their promises. You want concrete, specific commitments you can measure and address should there subsequently be an issue of non-performance.
Tell the super-agreeable in an honest and sincere fashion: “Sorry, that’s just not good enough. I need a commitment, not a promise.” Never accept vague or general responses, like their typical, half-hearted “okay … I’ll do it.” The more abstract, indecisive or tepid the promise, the easier is their escape from the responsibility of following through. Always get the details on deliverables. It may seem like overkill but confirm the commitments made.
Never let a super-agreeable give a promise you know can’t be kept. You’re only asking for trouble and hence you are complicit in the charade. Worse, you’re reinforcing the behaviour. Be prepared to lessen or compromise on your demands to ensure follow-through. If the task at hand is really important to you or the organization, it may be wise to get someone else to do it. In most situations, prudence and experience pay dividends.
The question now is this: Are you one? Do you put the interests and desires of others above your own? If you don’t already know the answer, then read each of the 10 statements below – one at a time – and record your score after you read each sentence. If you read all the statements first, before you decide to score them, the results will be meaningless. Despite your probable sincerity or interest in wanting measurable feedback on this trait, your effort will be wasted.
Do not rush your score. If you genuinely feel the statement is false, give yourself a score of 1. If the statement describes you to a “T,” give yourself a 5. If it’s somewhere in between, rate your true feelings accordingly. Be honest – no one (but you) will be checking the veracity of your responses. Self-evaluation is a deliberate and difficult process. If you can’t tolerate the reality of knowing who you are, you must live with the consequences of your self-deception. A lot of people do; so you’ll have good company. The value of this exercise lies entirely in your willingness to engage in non-defensive awareness and resist the temptation for self-aggrandizement. Here are the statements:
1. The thought of conflict with others terrifies me.
2. I never tell others what or how I really feel about them.
3. I feel selfish when I put my needs above those of others.
4 Negative feedback about my behaviour can devastate me.
5. I feel I need to be nice to others even when I don’t want to be.
6. I overanalyze serious challenges because I fear how others may react.
7. Saying “no” to others (even when I want to) usually fills me with dread.
8. I frequently sacrifice my personal well being and happiness to that of others.
9. I allow friends, family members and co-workers to put their interests above mine.
10. I desperately want to be liked by others and the possibility of rejection frightens me.
If you were truthful, you now have some data to consider. Quantifying behaviour is more informative than qualifying it. What follows is entirely arbitrary; hence only suggestive. Do not take these scores as anything other than food for thought. Or, perhaps, fuel for action. That’s all feedback and self-awareness really is. Here, for your contemplation, are the metrics. If you find them invalid, I’m OK with that. The sole purpose of my blogs is to encourage self-evaluation and independent thinking.
If you scored –
10 – 20: You care about your happiness more than thinking your purpose in life is to please others at your expense. This is as it should be.
21 – 30: You say yes more often than you really want to say yes.
31 – 40: To avoid conflict, you put the needs of others above your own. (Consider this course – it is available as a webinar.)
41 – 50: You are a bona-fide super-agreeable. You accommodate others at the expense of your personal interests and aspirations. And it’s often painful. But you already know that.