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The relationship between people pleasing and trust has come up a few times this week in my work with my clients. Seems there are many people who believe, like I did, that pleasing others fosters trusting relationships.

Not necessarily!

In my first career in the public service, my energy was mostly spent trying to figure out what the “right” answer was before speaking. I had a compulsive need to please my boss, my colleagues, the folks on my team and our clients. I was afraid that if I crossed any of them, relationship would be eroded and it would be harder to get the work done.

Conversations circled endlessly, never landing on a firm course of action. Whenever someone seemed unhappy I would backpedal or worse, try to distract them from their anger or deflect their criticism. I worked hard to try to prevent things from devolving into a conflict. I was exhausted by all of this, yet I persisted because I thought this was the best way to honour people and show them that I cared.

Until I learned the truth: It was actually working against me.

A bold colleague was my saviour. She stopped me in the hallway, grabbed my arm and said, “Shahmeen you are driving me crazy. When you avoid taking a stand or change your mind over and over again, it makes me feel like I can’t trust you.”

This hit me hard, right in the heart. Here I was thinking my behaviour fostered strong relationships and she’s telling me it makes her feel I’m not trustworthy? Ouch!

Now this assertive colleague was more than just the messenger. She was a model and a teacher.

In those days I never wanted to be…well…like her! I always thought that those ones who were not afraid to be in your face about things were scary and probably not very nice people.

And yet, what I actually needed to break this limiting pattern of mine, was to find the part of me that could be more like her. If you’ve traveled this journey, you’ll know that is no easy feat.

The counter-intuitive move that transforms your people orientation from frustrating to inspiring is actually to be clear, decisive and direct.

This takes great courage. The courage to take a stand. The courage to speak your truth. She created trust with me by being willing to tell me the truth about her experience of me and the impact my behaviour was having on her, even if it meant I would be upset by it. Although we aren’t so often with each other today, whenever I see her, I feel a rush of gratitude for the role she played in catalyzing this aspect of my transformation.

What are you learning about how to foster trust AND strengthen relationships? Who are the catalysts in your journey? How have you transformed your gifts to lead more effectively?

About the Author: 

Shahmeen Sadiq is a Leadership Consultant and Professional Certified Coach who has been turning managers into effective leaders since 2005. She is the founder of Anjali Leadership, a boutique consulting firm headquartered in Toronto, and This Human Being, through which she mentors and develops leadership coaches and other human development professionals. She has been certifying, teaching and mentoring coaches in the use of The Leadership CircleTM instruments since 2008 and regularly serves as Executive Coach within the University of Notre Dame’s Mendoza College of Business. An award-winning coach and respected leader in her professional communities, she is known for bringing immense heart, spirit and acceptance of the tender experience of being human into every aspect of her work.

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