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People Pleasing

We all like to get on with other people, but what do we do when we realise we’ve fallen into the trap of being a ‘people pleaser’?

Jesus went so far as to say, ‘Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you’ (Luke 6:26). Trying to please everyone all the time steals our time, energy and focus. And Jesus implies that even if we could manage to please everyone, it wouldn’t be good for us!

In his book Never Go Back, psychologist Dr Henry Cloud tells about when he visited US megachurch Willow Creek, which focuses on welcoming people who might think church is a boring or irrelevant place. Before the visit, Willow Creek and its founder Bill Hybels had been blasted by another church leader for being ‘shallow’ and ‘unbiblical’.

Cloud quizzed Hybels about what he thought of this criticism, which was all over Christian media. Hybels said he hadn’t been aware of it. ‘I don’t pay attention to that stuff. Too many other things to do … I have to do what I feel God is telling me and Willow [Creek] to do and not worry about all of that junk. People are going to say what they’re going to say.’

Soon after, Cloud talked with another church leader who had been criticised. This man was spending lots of time phoning people to persuade them that he was a good guy. He had to have them like him, says Cloud, so defending himself had become his main thing.

These contrasting ways of responding to criticism caused the two men to expend different amounts of energy. One yawned and paid no attention, while the other was so consumed by the criticism that he spent all his energy trying to combat it, even though this distracted him from his real purpose. His critics had gained control of how that man spent his time and energy simply by criticising him.

The most important difference between the two, Cloud says, was that ‘one man believed he had to please people—all people; while the other focused only on pleasing God’.

All of us want to be liked, appreciated and valued. But that doesn’t mean that we must please everyone or have everyone like us! We all have different agendas, tastes, interests, beliefs and experiences. It is impossible to make everyone happy, even amongst your closest friends, Cloud says. That’s the reality of life!

‘Basically, the only way to avoid upsetting anyone is to believe, say or do nothing. Not a good option. Once you realise that, and really, really get it, something happens—you give up what is impossible, and begin to focus on what is good.’

When it’s Smart to Make an Unpopular Choice

  • Choosing a profession that’s right for you, even when people want you to do something else
  • Standing up to addictions or abuse, even if the addict/ abuser gets upset
  • Leading teams and organisations so they reach their vision, even if people don’t get what they want
  • Saying ‘no’ to a child who wants to do something that’s not good for them
  • Making decisions that are right for your family, even if it upsets parents or in-laws
  • Refusing to do an unethical, immoral or illegal thing that someone with power wants you to do

Source: Never Go Back: 10 Things You’ll Never Do Again, by Dr Henry Cloud (Howard Books)