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Tips for sticking to your PPD in the workplace

You know how it is if you've ever tried a diet or given up smoking, or you do anything involving a big shift in habits that has the potential to be impacted when you're in different environments - you may find that you get stressed about how to deal with your newfound habits in the setting and that you fall back into old ways to keep the peace. It's how a friend of mine got back into smoking - she gave up and then discovered that some of the boss guys were chatting in their cigarette break so then it was just a "little smoke" to keep up with them, and then gradually, she was a full time smoker.

If you've been thinking that you won't be able to make assertive changes at work, fear not!

People pleasers are often the people who you see putting in far too many hours, taking on other people’s workloads and often giving away the credit for it too, as well as not asserting their rights even to basic things like time off, and feeling too intimidated by their fear of not pleasing to put forward ideas or to deal with conflict situations. As somebody who has done all of these things, I’m here to tell you that there is light at each end of the pleasing tunnel, so fear not. It does require you to put a few key things into practice though.

1. Do not mix up a person being an authority, as in they are at a higher level than you or are even your boss, as them being an authority over you, or even assume that they are better than you.

You have the same rights whether they pay your wage or are higher up the ladder than you. I worked in the media industry and like a lot of industries, being paid more or having a title, or even being the boss does not make you or your ideas worthless nor does it mean that the person actually knows ‘everything’. A lot of experts aren’t actual ‘experts’ and some of the most intelligent people lack common sense or people skills. You have strengths in your own right. That and you also have moral and legal rights.

You have the same rights as your boss and your peers.

You have the right to make a mistake, to say no to unreasonable requests although you will have to flag up why in some instances. You also have the right to say that you don’t know, to express your opinion in the appropriate forum and with respect, to be given respect, to be treated and regarded in a professional manner, to give feedback, to be consulted when decisions they’re making might have an impact on you, and to expect certain standards. This is how healthy working environments operate.

Don’t give up your rights out of this sense of being more pleasing and less of an ‘inconvenience’. You are, for instance, entitled to time off. Many people pleasers do not take their allocated holiday time and if they do, it's such a stress for them to ask for it or to be away worrying, that it near negates taking the time off in the first place. They often work themselves into the ground as if to compensate for being off or convince themselves that they'll be punished in some way for having the time off; or they  overcompensate on their return in an effort to make a statement. "Look everybody! I am working super hard. See - I deserved the holiday!" Problem is, no one notices the statement, or certainly not in the way that it was intended, and do it around the wrong folk and they'll just take advantage of it and expect that this is what you should be doing all of the time or feel suspicious of you.

It is outrageous to relinquish your right to holiday time. Don’t project your fears onto your boss plus it is the law that you can take holiday. As long as you give notice, take it. If it’s not available, ask when is the next available date and don’t keep giving up your time off to that colleague that takes advantage. Most workplaces have a code of conduct about colluding over holidays and a similar code often exists for rotas too. This means that staff cannot collude to fix it where only certain people get to take time off when they want or always get what they want on the rota.

2. If the threat of demotion, negative consequences in the form of some sort of social consequences etc, or loss of work is looming, this is not a situation you can please your way out of.

Many have tried before you, many will try after you. It will buy you a bit of time (possibly) but it won’t prevent that person (or company) from wielding their power when it suits them nor will it make them respect you, and if you have no respect at work whether it’s from them or from you, that is a problem that cannot and must not continue. This is the time to evaluate whether it’s a real or imagined threat. Look at your annual review (or whatever the frequency is) so that you can assess whether your fears about your performance are founded. Any half decent manager or boss worth their salt, will have given constructive feedback and an outline of what is needed in order to meet the appropriate objectives. They will have let you know what does and doesn’t work, not just focused on negatives. If you are working for a bully, your assertiveness skills will come in handy for putting healthy boundaries between you, even if it’s from an emotional point of view where you’re no longer blaming you or giving them power. Remember that bullies are not strong; their behaviour represents fear.

3. Ask questions.

You don’t necessarily have to say, ‘I don’t know’, but you do have to stop pretending that not knowing everything is a bad thing. If like me, you’ve worked with somebody who is actually quite unhelpful, find someone who is. Managers, directors, supervisors, team leaders, and basically all staff members do not become better managers, directors etc, by their staff remaining silent.

If you are managed by somebody who is unhelpful and even passive aggressive, I would strongly advise you to do the assertive thing and document each time you have attempted to get their help or even the help of anyone else. It may come in useful. If, like my husband, you work somewhere where you’re expected to ‘self-manage’ and almost problem solve and train on your own, ask around about which resources others are using (believe me they are) and also find out about training courses that are available. Let’s just say that I have a friend who is heavily reliant on Google and forums because he gets so little support from his team members.

4. Don’t participate in child-to-parent dynamics.

If you find that you're acting similarly to what you used to be like around a parent, sibling, or even a bully, this is a code red alert that for whatever reason, this person is activating your pleaser and an underlying urge to right the wrongs of the past. It's time to get conscious, aware, and present.

Step back and compare the person and the present situation with the past person and the past situation, so that you can get a sense of whether there’s an actual threat (sometimes we project) or whether this represents an opportunity to do better by you and respond differently. Start by taking them down off their pedestal. They’re just an ordinary human being.

5. Identify the person who takes the piss with unreasonable requests.

Unreasonable may simply be that they expect you to firefight constantly or to cover up for their own ineptitude or inability to say no. What is the point in a person saying yes to everyone and then having to go behind their backs and dump it on your plate? Yes, some of these people who expect too much of you are pleasers themselves! But that’s not your problem and the fact is, neither of you are going to improve your own positions if you don’t each learn to hear and give no. When you see this person coming, you need to be ready to say no instead of being ready to be defeated. See all of the saying and showing no classes.

6. Do ask people what the priority is.

There’s no such thing as everything is a priority. You and they are not octopuses so something has to be done first, second etc. If you already have a pretty full plate, ask what the priority is so that you can manage their expectations. They don’t know that they’re overloading you if you don’t manage them. You also need to really assert yourself if you have more than one person making requests because they will not be aware of the other party’s requests and may believe that theirs is more important. Do not assume that they're in the know, even if they're your boss. If they’re all thinking the same thing, you have to do a juggle. Showing assertiveness skills will actually help you to advance at work.

7. Suggest your own deadline if the time frame doesn’t work for you.

This will flush out real and fake deadlines (most people veer between buffering with extra time, which is the smart thing to do, and some like to spring it on you when it’s right on the wire).

8. Buffer yourself.

Take a lead from other assertive folk and give yourself extra time because the likelihood is that you tend to claim you can do things in ‘perfectionist time’ – an unrealistic time frame to come across as more pleasing. When you’re losing sleep and even your health, you will regret doing this. If you’re talking in days, try to add an extra 1-2 days. If it’s weeks, add at least a week. Often we think the sky will fall down and then when people agree, we want to kick ourselves for not having started getting into this habit sooner. Before you agree to the time frame, think about your own priorities, existing commitments, and whether, based on the time frame you're suggesting, you have been able to complete it in this time in the past. If not, it doesn't make sense to offer to do it in the same time frame again!

9. Don’t forget that you must show value of your time.

From the putting forward a hard working person who values her time, effort, and contribution, doing things that show a lack of respect for your time or your efforts actually goes against you. Don’t sell yourself cheap. Take it from somebody who is an over-doer and has to regularly rein herself in. You teach people what to expect of you. If you pile it all on, what have you got left to give? That, and you’re eroding the value of what you do.

The fact that you are not able to do everything doesn’t make you unpleasing; it just makes you human.

Some people will claim that they can do everything and try to make out like you’re getting something wrong by not agreeing to everything. They delegate, they just might not admit it. They probably lose sleep or show other signs of high stress and unhappiness in other aspects of their lives. They may be having to have no life in order to give the impression that they can get it all done at work…..

10. Nail down passive aggressives (and aggressives) with the joy of email.

Sadly I’ve worked with quite a few of these in the past and the annoying thing was, they’d slither out of things that they’d said because they thought that there was no proof. The first way of dealing with these is sending an email following meetings or in reply to their email that actually reiterates what they’ve stated. This makes it very hard to duck out of. Adding, ‘Do let me know so that I can put this in the diary / get started / organise the team or whatever’ means that they have to reply or take it that by not replying, it’s not happening. You can also follow up with them. You’ll also note that they’ll be less inclined to pull stuff with you as you have a paper trail.

11. If you can’t confirm / reiterate via email, restate what was said / agreed.

This is another great one and is perfectly legitimate. ‘So let me just clarify, you need ____, _______, and _________ by ________?’ or ‘So am I understanding you correctly that when you said ________, you mean ___________?’ so that they have to clarify. ‘So just so that we’re all clear, you’re going to ____________ and I need to ____________?’ and then follow up with an email.

12. Don’t take shady people at their word if their actions are revealing their shady selves.

I regularly advise people on how to deal with difficult work situations. As an example, a friend’s husband found himself in a rather difficult situation where he was taken to task by someone who wasn’t actually his manager but who was close friends with his boss. Red flag #1. Both parties assured him that all was well but then extended his probation and claimed it wasn’t a big deal. Red flag #2. At this point I warned him to watch his back and that he needed to take control of the situation so that regardless, he was in control of his own fate. i.e, start looking for another job and be vigilant. He was landed with responsibilities that weren’t in his job spec, red flag #3, and then penalised when he struggled to do them, red flag #4, he suggested that things weren’t working but was begged to stay by the same boss but when she’d had a few drinks - red flag #5. He spoke to her again when sober and kept believing her even though she had let him down before. They let him go with one hours warning. I’d seen it coming ever since red flag #1. Thankfully he had started looking for another job and so he was ahead of the process while understandably frustrated. He looks back now and realises that he was too passive about the situation and you cannot afford to be when people have the power to determine your next paycheck. It may feel like it at the time, but they’re not the only paying gig in town although of course it’s never ‘easy’ to job hunt.  This brings me neatly to…

13. Learn to anticipate (in a healthy way) other people’s behaviour.

Stop being surprised by people who typically be and do certain things, typically being and doing those certain things. This is different to anticipating doom. In my old job, I knew who was most likely to object to something (because it was their calling card), who would be afraid to speak up, who was domineering, who was a slacker, and who didn’t get enough recognition for their efforts and actually didn’t recognise [their efforts] themselves. You learn very quickly who will pass the blame, which is why instead of feeling victimised in advance of it and resigning yourself to it, you instead plan your response.


Facts are a deterrent to even the biggest of bullshitters so know your facts.


14. Don’t be afraid of bullies, feel sorry for them.

Workplace bullies are playing out their childhood woes in an adult goldfish bowl. They’re not powerful; they’re afraid and trying to right the wrongs of the past. They lack courage and only know how to get what they want through intimidation. They’re not liked and respected; they’re feared and that is not the same as respect. They’re also very likely intimidated by you in some way so instead of focusing on what you think you lack, it’s more like focusing on what you have and are. Remember that workplace bullies only know how to advance themselves by crushing others which means that they’re either not putting in the work or that they don’t internalise their efforts. Everyone is a threat. They’re also playing out long-standing resentment and anger. Pity them, and report them if you can. The one thing I would suggest though is that if you work for a company where they don't do very much and they're actually having the bully run rings around them, while you can buffer yourself with self-esteem, meditation, exercise, boundaries, it's just too feckin exhausting to work with someone like this over an extended period. They're not winning if you leave; you're gaining if you leave.

15. Capitalise on your strengths.

No one is good or perfect at everything. It’s your strengths and your ability to maximise these instead of being cowered by perceived weaknesses, that will advance you.

16. Address any so-called weaknesses that are impacting your confidence.

You will feel more confident when you address these which will give you more energy to play to your strengths. Make sure that something is a real weakness before you focus on addressing it and approach it in a constructive way. Training, books, modelling healthy coworkers, mentoring, being mentored, and even periodical catchups with your boss can be of help. Work with people who want to see you succeed and who are respectful.

17. Practice listening to feedback both positive and negative.

Is it respectful? Is it true or partially true? Is it useful? If the manner is disrespectful, if it’s untrue, and if it doesn’t positively benefit you even if it’s ‘negative’ feedback, it’s not constructive feedback or that useful.

18. Give feedback.

An illuminating realisation for me was that people ‘higher up’ than me still need feedback and are not perfect. In fact, some of the most insecure people I’ve worked with earned more and were higher up than me. We’re all only human. Practice letting people know what’s going really well and what isn’t. Start small and even start with people who you’re not particularly afraid of. Then work upwards.

 19. Keep a list of what you do each day.

Even if you only do this for a week, you will see that you have no reason to be trying to be a superhero and acting like you’re not doing anything. Note at least one key accomplishment and keep track because the next time you have a bad day or week, you can consult it and balance your perspective. That - and it’s also useful if you ever have to deal with someone who’s making out that they do ‘everything’ and that you do nothing.

20. Keep a note of how you react to your colleagues.

This can be your work feelings diary and it will give you an opportunity to be more objective instead of blaming you for the behaviour of others. Also note when you feel threatened and when your self-confidence is impacted by the actions of others.

Remember that if you try to people please in order to feel less threatened or to attempt to gain more confidence, you will not be able to objectively recognise what is going on and why.

A lot of the time when we feel affected by what is going on around us at work, we don’t recognise that there are ‘turf wars’ taking place and that some people are acting up and acting out. If people are behaving like they’re at high school, that’s a reflection of immaturity and their own inner child issues, not of your popularity or worth. Some people treat their coworkers like their relatives who they didn’t get enough praise and recognition from and so they compensate for the past with their loudness. If you empathise (not over-empathise), you will recognise what you’ve had to recognise in you – that a lot of our habits stem from trying to sort out things from the past or unhealthily putting the past on repeat. You are not the only person affected by your childhood and other early experiences. This doesn’t absolve people when they cross boundaries but what it does remind you of, is that it’s not about you.

21. Don’t overcompensate for others.

I know you’re trying to be helpful and there will be times when we all have to muck in temporarily but taking on the responsibility of hiding other people’s perceived inabilities or flaws, is very dangerous.  Aside from the fact that you’re inadvertently crossing boundaries, you’re also preventing them from knowing their own strengths and weaknesses, as well as curtailing their responsibilities to do their own role. You also need to examine your motivations because you may be helping them in the sense that they’re not having to face what they’re struggling with but you also have to question what you truly expect out of this.

How are you going to feel if your efforts are unappreciated? Do you feel owed and if you do, are they aware of what the debt is?

Don’t try to be the solution to other people’s issues not least because you’re not that powerful and there are better ways to help in life. It’s also important to note that on a wider level, you compensating for others, stops management from being aware of where they need to step up. It hides inefficiencies.

22. Remain focused on your own role.

Don’t get sucked into gossip, the rumour mill, or treating work as if it's your second chance at high school (it isn’t). One of the things that’s been hugely beneficial to me as an employee and being self-employed, is to not get sucked in by any of these things no matter how tempting. They will take you away from being you, they will distract you, and they will at times undermine your integrity. If you can remain focused regardless of this stuff, you will maintain your confidence. The happiest employees and business owners are ones that acknowledge the presence of these distractions but don’t allow their confidence to be impacted by these due to limiting their involvement.

23. Don’t avoid people who intimidate you.

It just builds them up into monsters in your mind and then when you do find yourself around them, you panic into pleaser overdrive. Say hello, remind you that they’re just not that special, and try to see them as human while using the tools that you’ve learned to calm you down. Interact with the ‘scary’ people and you will see that they’re just not that scary and that those who are quite formidable characters, that you can handle them. I regularly see somebody at school who is quite intimidating and at first I felt really wary and then I thought, Eff it! I smile and say hello, not because I'm brown-nosing her but because her issues aren't my issues. I don't go out of my way to deal with her but I don't go out of my way not to deal with her.

24. Watch how many times you say ‘sorry’ at work.

You will send the wrong messages about you.

Don’t put ‘Sorry’ before or after asking for something at work. Just don't.

You will come across as passive and as if you’re apologising for breathing. It is enough to be conscientious. Obviously apologise for your own mistakes and where you cause accidental mistakes but this is very different to trying to engage people from an apology stance. Get in the habit of picking you up on it.

25. If you find that your point gets lost, ask coworkers to summarise what you’ve said.

Sometimes when we’re not confident, we don’t realise how it affects our body language or what we say. In our minds, it may seem as if we’ve said ‘everything’ when in reality, we may not have been that clear. Asking people to summarise what you’ve said gives you an opportunity to clarify anything outstanding and puts you all on the same hymn sheet. Don’t take it personally if people have misunderstood something. Even the most assertive of people have to re-explain things.

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