Old engraving of two children in sunday best.

Six flavours of ‘anxious to please’

Old engraving of two children in sunday best.We’re social animals. But sometimes our urge to be part of the herd gets out of hand.  One of the insights of meditation – or maybe just of getting older – is that you spot yourself acting out little scripts and preoccupations normally hidden from your busy, get-on-with-it mind.

I was thinking about this the other day when came across a writing exercise – simply using a mind-map to elaborate an idea.  Working through it I came across six ways in which an ‘anxious to please’ mentality works itself out in different people – or in the same person at different times. I recognise these types at work, in bands, everywhere.  I’ve always had sneaking admiration for people who don’t manifest this trait – the ones who don’t care what other people think of them. Maybe now I’ve a better idea why.  I’m not slagging anyone here: I’ve been all of these at one time or another.  (Or maybe I’m just saying that to be nice – I’m actually looking at you – yes you!).
1. The puppy
Big eyes, looking up like an orphan in an illustration to Dickens. This is the character who enters the room silently saying ‘Please love me’.  Laughing just a little bit too hard at your jokes right now.
Most likely to say: Wow! Amaaazing!
Least likely to say: You’re standing in my way, bozo.
2. Wormtongue
The flatterer, ingratiator, the arselicker.  Found in more or less subtle form throughout the management world.  Mind you, in Lord of the Rings, Wormtongue turned on Saruman in the end, as flatterers in business usually do.
Most likely to say:  I think everyone would agree Richard’s made an important point here.
Least likely to say: Yeah, right, Richard.
3. The striver
This is the one who thinks ‘If I try harder, put in more effort, start earlier, stay later it’ll be noticed and I’ll be  liked and – most important – I’ll deserve it’  Totally sincere in their belief in fairness and justice.
Most likely to say: I’ll just process this pile when I get to the bottom of that pile.
Least likely to say: Slave. Previous. Cause of death?
4. The absolute beginner
 Constantly looking for reassurance, for feedback, for praise.  Counting their ‘likes’ on Facebook and coming back a minute later to see if there are more. Whenever they reach the stage when they should no longer be making beginners’ errors (and being forgiven) they go off to ‘begin’ something else. When they get praise, they believe it, treasure it and sing themselves to sleep with it.
Most likely to say: Oops, silly me!
Least likely to say: I came, I saw, I conquered.
5. The charmer
More confident than the others; mainstream appeal, popular, accessible, but wants to be sure the people that matter agree.  ‘Love me as much as I love myself’
Most likely to say: These are my principles. (If you don’t like them, I have others)
Least likely to say:  Right – you and me outside NOW!
6. The goodie
Obedient, compliant, a rule follower, a follower of leaders (not parking meters). ‘If I always do the right thing I’ll be loved’
Most likely to say: It’s probably best if we stay within the guidelines.
Least likely to say: Forgiveness is better than permission
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