3 ways to stop your fear of disappointing others

So you hate letting people down: friends, family, clients. So what are the things you can do to change that.

Shannon had been in business a while. In fact, a good 10 years. They were quite successful. Not as much as their parents would like but enough to keep their family and go away on holidays through the year. Shannon is dedicated to the industry. They often give away advice to clients free of charge. Shannon hates to see anyone done wrong.

The problem is, Shannon hates disappointing people, in fact they’re afraid of disappointing others. They hate letting their family down. They hate it when their clients aren’t 100 percent happy with what they’ve done; even though they overdeliver and undercharge as a matter of course.

Shannon is not their real name and I know Shannon as both male and female. Traditionally people pleasers, although they may not think they are, Shannons are kind hearted and often taken advantage of. Unfortunately, this causes them to feel used, undervalued, warn out, and at its worst, a business failure.

What normally happens next is that Shannon retreats; from friends, family, and their business. They wonder why they bother and doubt becomes their constant companion. Getting out of this spiral can be difficult. They can’t fake it out, because honestly they’ve generally faked their way in (more on this in a minute).

So how does Shannon, or anyone, who fears disappointing others actually get stuff done when in the depths of this doubt darkness?

There are three key things we can do when we are afraid of disappointing people. The good thing is that it really doesn’t matter who the people are or what the situation is, we are all people and these three things will help.

Perceived expectations

fear of disappointing others quote Alain de BottonWhen we are afraid of disappointing people, we rely on what we believe the other person’s expectations are. (incidentally this is one of the core behaviours of imposter syndrome).

Perhaps we don’t want to disappoint our family. We’re worried what they’d say or how they’d react. While some of this can be based on past behaviour, it’s still never 100% guaranteed. We’re afraid that they will be disappointed and that our actions will be the cause.

The thing is, do we ever truly know how other people will behave? Our behaviour changes with how tired or hungry we are, how well we slept, if we’d been in an argument earlier that day, if we had a good morning, if we’re feeling sick, if we actually want to be there, if we feel comfortable. There are many biological and situational factors that impact how we react to situations. We can not know all of these and how they will impact on how we expect a person will react vs how they actually will.

However, Shannon adjusts their behaviour on the off chance that they might disappoint the person because they believe that they will somehow upset them by not meeting what Shannon believes to be the expectations of that person. Shannon tiptoes and adjusts to meet something that quite probably doesn’t exist and is all made up in their mind.

What Shannon could do is to actually ask what is expected, they know what is expected by their clients as that’s what they are being paid to deliver. If they deliver that, the customer is happy, anything more is a bonus, and overdelivering to avoid disappointment isn’t necessary and can create unease on both parties.

Boundaries counter the fear of disappointing others

When we are unsure of what people are expecting we need to either fill that knowledge gap or install our own knowledge. And we need to be ok with that.

People who overdeliver and feel used often lack boundaries and the ability to say no to even themselves. This inability to know when enough is enough leads to doing too much and burning out.

Shannon isn’t always that great at saying no. They will do whatever possible to keep their kids, extended family, and clients happy. If a client complains they will instantly cut their prices, thereby showing their client that their time, expertise, and overall worth are not worthwhile and they don’t value them. The vast majority of the time, that client does not return or recommend Shannon. Why? Not because of the service they received but because they got what they wanted and at a lower price.

Because Shannon is a people pleaser and is afraid of disappointing, they would rather undervalue themselves, put themselves second, and teach others that they can do the same.

When Shannon looks to put boundaries in place, they worry that people will not like it, that they will lose customers (and money), and that this will all negatively impact on their business leading to them disappointing their family.

However, if Shannon valued their time/service/knowledge/expertise, they wouldn’t be discounting or even entering into that conversation with their clients. The cycle would stop right there.

Boundaries come from understanding our core values, living in alignment with them and rewriting the stories that lead us to people pleasing. Doing this core work to come back to our core of who we are makes setting boundaries a lot easier.

Listening to the right people

fear of disappointing others quote Rosa ParksPerhaps Shannon listens to their Dad who is an accountant, or their Uncle who runs an unrelated business, or their spouse who has little or nothing to do with their business, or their friend who has their best intentions at heart but really doesn’t know all the things that go on behind the scenes. All of these people not only influence what Shannon does but also what they believe they should be doing. Because all of these people mean so much, on a personal level, to Shannon they fear disappointing them.

Now I’m not saying that Shannon needs to go and find an expert, coach, or whatever. What I am suggesting is that they look at the source. Dad the accountant will be offering ‘advice’ from their perspective on what Shannon should do in their business because it’s their child, whereas an independent accountant may offer slightly different advice or that Shannon may take the advice differently from an independent person.

What works for one person in one particular situation may not in another. What’s good for me may not necessarily be good for you.

We all come into a situation with our own particular drivers and that influences what we say and how we interpret what is said. That does not mean that Shannon should surround themselves with “yes men”, but they should realise the source and if that source has a particular point of view or vested interest.

When Shannon puts in boundaries, understands where these people are coming from, and recognises that they may have made an error in their perceived expectations then they will understand that they have the power to control not just themselves but also situations and how they respond. Shannon understands that while they had a fear of disappointing people that:
– it may not have happened in the first place
– they are not responsible for the happiness of others
– they are allowed to be happy
– they can do what is best for themselves
– there are people out there who do have their best interest at heart and they belong in their company.

Side note: I am learning that the fear of disappointing people can be linked to people pleasing and the need to belong. We all deserve to belong. We all need people to create a sense of belonging. It should not occur at our expense.

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