Strategies to tell people I avoid pleasing people?
September 10, 2019 12:42 AM   Subscribe

Through my support worker, I realised that when I promise to please people I usually create a pattern in my own brain that sets me up to fail. I challenged this and the support worker successfully showed me how when I work to please myself, I actually get things done. When I work to please people, unless I do the work right then and there, I fail and then wait to be sanctioned or yelled at. I need to tell people about this so they know how best to work with me. How do I do this?

This issue all stems from domestic violence I was subject to as a child for not getting good-enough grades or not being as good as so-and-so. I could barely own my success and when I did I did a bad job at it until times when I could just focus on what was actually important to getting out of my own way and training others to do the work.
My anxiety stopped me from doing easy things and things that could have brought a lot of attention to me because I would run away from the attention because I didn't want more people I could potentially disappoint. To know where it stems from and how I treated myself like garbage for years because once I committed to pleasing others, I would stop trying and move to a place of self-diversion. This is a deep paradox, a lot of people need and thrive on that validation. I have realised I am best used when I know the project goals and can just focus on those goals, but because I am often confronted with "ideas" which need to be sold back to the idea's originator, I end up working on projects that are set up to fail and I end up allowing myself to be the fall guy.

Sometimes, just deciding to say out 'I will do this...' is a recipe for failure. Feeling beholden to a loved one, a colleague/manager or a even a stranger for that brief moment can cause me immense aggravation, where merely doing it alone allows me to not feel so tied to the shame of not being able to quickly finish projects that will inevitably take time to complete. As a result, I have many part-finished files and manuscripts languishing that I am now working on deciding to either restart without requiring any further validation or throwing away and moving on from.

A good recent example is working with an engineering company where I wrote and they accepted a project plan. Then, when work was agreed the objective changed to 'just get sales". I should have walked away, but I needed the money and worked on this goal-less project for two months before we mutually broke off the engagement.

My support worker said I need to stop pleasing people. But, telling a client I won't please them is dangerous in my experience. How do I introduce my project planning requirements really early without it causing clients to worry there are too many steps.

An early attempt to correct myself was in setting up a training class on producing podcasts. I got all set up to teach the class. Then, the centre manager got in touch with me and told me I needed to write a grant to fund equipment for the project or it could be cancelled. He knew from experience I would have put the grant together just for the chance to maybe teach the class. I told him I would write the grant and then pay his fee to use his classrooms, walking away from a joint partnership. He finally agreed to let me teach the class as planned without writing the grant.

Any assistance is highly welcome.

I am a freelance writer, project manager and trainer.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (6 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
IDK if this is helpful but I generally scope out my clients by asking them to draw their landscape (I'm a freelance landscape architect) and I get to see their thinking in real time. It helps me set a cost estimate if they ask for one on the spot as I have something rational to base the level of ease or hassle of dealing with them. Some clients REALLY need to be disqualified. Is there a way to deploy something like this in your case?

Also I have found I need to avoid being chatty or too open with clients as it leads me into 'pleasing' situations.
posted by unearthed at 2:40 AM on September 10, 2019 [1 favorite]

For a start, being freelance is supergood. I have some similar background to you, and similar blocks in my work. However, my work doesn't usually have a tight turn around and therefore, I can manage multiple clients and mostly prioritise work as I choose.

I also make it clear what I wont/can't do when we negotiate the brief, and my expectations of them - work recieved early enough so I can squeeze it in between other deadlines (or in reality unpaid mental health days). I appear to be in demand (I am, I don't have to advertise and I have too many projects on simmer with long-term clients who also have many projects so they don't mind) which makes me look good, and gives me space to do what I can, where I can, without discussing my personal health issues.
posted by b33j at 2:51 AM on September 10, 2019

Hmm, on your end the reason behind your requirements is that you need to stop pleasing people, but it looks like your clients don't necessarily need to hear the story or justifications behind your requirements. I think it'd be perfectly fine to say, for example, "I prefer to join projects at the stage where there are already concrete, actionable goals in place, if you're still in the planning/pitching phase maybe we should circle back at a later date."

As a freelancer, it might help to create some standardized plans for the work you usually do and present them to your clients as either/or or "choose from this list" options instead of endlessly negotiating for your job duties. When you're talking to a client about boosting their online presence, for example, you could send them an email saying "I can create a corporate blog, write a pitch deck and/or revamp your website. Here's a doc outlining what my approach and standard rates would be for each, let me know which of my services you're interested in." Put in a bit about researching the company first and add a little bit of customization but tbh most of this can be a copy/paste job.

Then you can choose whether or not leave room to negotiate for tasks outside of your scope (like grant-writing), but in my experience people usually don't want to do the work of figuring things out and will gladly accept having a plan laid out for them. Also, charge for revisions above (x) number! This will keep you from getting into long email chains where the client endlessly tinkers with your work as if trial and error will produce the one thing that finally satisfies them.
posted by storytam at 2:54 AM on September 10, 2019 [12 favorites]

Yes, for heaven's sake, don't talk to your clients about your deep personal reasons for needing x or y, no matter how totally and completely valid they may be. Other people do not care or want to be told "how best to work with you." They want to know how you can accomplish what they need to get done. Boil it down to some objective requirements for project engagement (people are right that you're lucky to be a freelancer and thus more able to set the terms of your engagements, at least to the extent you can afford to turn down jobs) and enforce them as much as you possibly can. I think you'll be surprised at how far you can push this, at least if your reputation is good--look how you pulled it off with the surprise-grant-writing requirement! (But I do think you're going to have problems with a blanket refusal to say "I will do this.")
posted by praemunire at 8:29 AM on September 10, 2019 [1 favorite]

It sounds to me like you've had some bad luck with clients changing the job in the middle of the job, or, in other words, trying to get something for nothing. At least, that's what I'm getting from the two examples:

...I wrote and they accepted a project plan. Then, when work was agreed the objective changed to 'just get sales".

I got all set up to teach the class. Then, the centre manager got in touch with me and told me I needed to write a grant to fund equipment for the project or it could be cancelled.

So you could simply say, "Oh, sorry, perhaps I misunderstood our agreement? Let's look. Oh, no, see, the contract, here, doesn't mention anything about this new work you're asking me to do. I'd have to take a few days to look into this new request, and we'd need to draw up a new contract. Meanwhile, you owe me $n for the work I completed. Thanks!"
posted by Don Pepino at 9:10 AM on September 10, 2019 [2 favorites]

One suggestion for coming up with angles on this: what *do* you do? Starting a conversation with a negative is not good either for mood/relationship or for clarity, you're not going to get a shared understanding.

If I'm reading this right you're saying you do best when you work to please yourself. So think about what that means for your customers and your product. What is the product you're selling, as it were - "I do high quality teapot polishing" (but I won't do a crappy rush job or commit to a schedule I can't achieve). "I do teapot spout shaping" (but if you want a handle you need to find someone else).

Defining this for yourself also will help you draw those boundaries in advance, so you're not blindsided by customer requests or finding yourself saying "yes" to things you later realize should not have been in your scope of work.
posted by Lady Li at 2:51 PM on September 10, 2019

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