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How often in the past have you kept misgivings to yourself, simply so you wouldn’t make waves or rock the boat? Are there occasions when you chose not to speak your conscience so that you can be viewed as being “one of the gang?” It’s at these times of voluntary silence that we need to ask ourselves “Who are we trying to please and why?” Pleasers do a disservice to their firms because they rob them of their unique talents. Wall flowers, corporate moles, and office sycophants are less than fully utilized assets because they choose silence, and because they sometimes assume blame when it’s undeserved.

Zukav (2002) describes a pleaser as an individual whose lack of self respect is manifested in a mealy-mouthed approach to life;  … “an individual who needs to please is constantly trying to see how others are feeling so that she will know how to be with them. She cannot take their requests and communications at face value. She tries to guess what they are really saying or requesting. This is because she herself does not communicate what she is feeling, thinking, or requesting.” Moreover:

“Pleasers operate from the premise that the other person is always right. Their intense desire to please is created by fear – of not gaining their manager’s admiration, of not meeting his psychological needs, or of potentially losing their status as most favored sycophant” (Gilbert, Carr-Ruffino, Ivancevich, & Konopaske, in press).

When faced with conflict or with a sticky situation (and especially if they are in opposition to one more powerful) these people choose the accommodating form of response to disagreement. Five primary responses to conflict, initially identified by Thomas and Kilmann, exist:

  • Accommodating: subverting one’s one desires to appease their opponent
  • Avoiding: pretending like a conflict doesn’t exist
  • Collaborating: the most functional conflict mode in which a win-win solution for both parties is reached. This mode requires exceptional communication skills on the part of both individuals.
  • Competing: an aggressive stance in which parties to a conflict choose to lock horns with their opponent, in a win/lose mode
  • Compromising: each party chooses to relinquish one or more desired goals to arrive at a solution, leaving neither completely satisfied

Without perhaps meaning to, those who purposely subvert their voice (or who have difficulty expressing themselves in the first place) teach surrounding individuals how to treat them. Phil McGraw (1999) mentions that certain individuals approach problem solving with a “paws up” mentality. He further argues that if we choose this approach to life, other people will gladly take the one-up position in response to our hang-dog emotionality. Similarly, Jack Canfield in The Success Principles suggests that we model expected behavior:

Conversely, choose not to be the aggressor who takes advantage of those who are more timid, less assertive, and who choose to stay out of the limelight. Don’t let other people take the blame for your role in problem creation, or for your share of problem resolution. Furthermore, if you receive an apology don’t feel justified or smug; the automatic response may simply be a part of someone else’s conditioning or their cultural upbringing. It’s the character disordered who look for scapegoats upon whom to blame their problems, look for targets who can bolster their self-image, and who are exploitative in their efforts to remain above the fray. Don’t push until someone pushes back, or look for people whom you consider easy marks.

In order to avoid the peril of accepting false blame, become accustomed to self expression. Start off small –

(1) Offer a comment in a meeting,
(2) Take a public speaking class, or
(3) Join a local  Toastmasters club

Choose not to rob those around you of your unique contributions, and the pearls of wisdom that only you can proffer. You are a voice in this world – speak when it is in your  best interests and the interests of those around you. When you have achieved this feat you’ll not only feel like a million dollars, but you’ll have transformed yourself from the function of doormat to the deliverer of much needed solutions.



Canfield, J. (2005). The success principles: How to get from where you are to where you want to be. New York: Collins.

Gilbert, J. A., Carr-Ruffino, N., Ivancevich, J. M., & Konopaske, R. Toxic vs. cooperative behaviors at work: The power of organizational culture in creating community-centered organizations. In press at International Journal of Leadership Studies.

McGraw, P. (1999). Life strategies: doing what works, doing what matters. New York: Hyperion.

Zukav, G. (2002). Heart of the Soul: Emotional awareness. New York: Simon & Schuster.

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All viewpoints expressed by Jackie Gilbert are her own, and not of her employer.

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2 Responses
  1. Great article. I’m interested in learning more about the 5 primary responses. Thanks for including the references. I’ve had clients where the leader was very dominate. It was very interesting to observe the different reactions from different subordinates. Your article will give me a good model for future observations.

  2. Dan Holland on January 31st, 2011 at 8:32 pm
  3. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Dan Holland, Dr. Jackie Gilbert. Dr. Jackie Gilbert said: The Perils of Accepting False Blame #behavior #organizing #bullying #conflict […]

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