How to Overcome “Trying Too Hard” at Work

Monish SubherwalDesign Mindset and PhilosophyLeave a Comment

A difficult challenge for me at times is just to chill out when I meet people at work.

If I am to be honest, I find myself “trying hard” when I meet someone new, people senior to me, or with new clients in top positions.

We all do it, but when is it unhealthy?

To some extent, we all “try hard” when we meet someone new or want to make a good impression.  This extra energy and enthusiasm is what people tend to appreciate too (no one likes a dead unenthusiastic personality when introducing themselves).

However, the definition of “trying hard” to me is: overextended energy going beyond basic first-time meeting energy exchange.

What does “trying hard” mean?  Beyond the first meeting of someone, you:

  • You provide extra effort, time, energy to please another person or get their attention, approval, validation.
  • You smile more often than what’s nature to you (could be real or fake smile, sure why not).
  • You give “unearned” or “undeserved” extra attention to someone else due to their rank, newness, position, etc..
  • You do things against your typical nature or behavior to try and befriend another person.

Problems with “trying hard”

There are a few problems with “trying hard” that can end up hurting you in your career and life.

Problem 1:  Trying to please everyone rarely works and often pushes people away

2 hands holding on to fence

This is an interesting irony, but the more you try to please someone the less they respect you and like you.  This is indeed contradictory to most typical advice to “work harder!” if you don’t get your result the first time.  Pleasing others with more effort, backfires.  Big time.

You would think people would be flattered right? Rarely that happens. Oftentimes an opposite effect can happen where others find your behavior unappealing.

“People pleasing”, “Looking good”, “nice guy/girl syndrome”, “trying hard,” or “butt kissing” are all forms of trying to impress others.

When you try hard to impress others and befriend them, people consciously or unconsciously know you are really trying to get something from them.

Now, you may think — no, I am not trying to get anything from them.  I’m just being friendly!  An extra amount of friendliness doesn’t hurt!

Well, let’s be honest here.  You are trying to get something – the obvious thing being their approval, a return of friendliness.  You are forcing an emotional exchange – when the other person may or may not be that into it or even deserving of it.

Try too hard to impress others — unconsciously rings an alarm.  People can sense you are changing yourself (not being at ease) for them.

If the alarm could talk it would ask:

Why would you change who YOU are just for MY sake? Must be a plan in the works.

Unconsciously, people’s “sales-man” radar goes off. They unconsciously ask themselves, what does he want from me? Does he want my approval? My trust? For what?

Problem 2:  You fail to see people as they are

Yellow sign that reads 'rattlesnakes may be found in this area give them distance and respect'

I think another big problem with “trying too hard” is something I have seen myself do.

I have tried so hard, that it has blinded me from seeing people as they really are.

If you are trying so hard to please others — no matter what they do, you are really not being self aware of who you are dealing with. 

That person may be a complete jerk and undeserving of your extra attention, energy, good will, etc.. — but you are too busy trying to get their approval (or reciprocity) to notice that you reealllly need to stay away.

This reminds me a common story of the scorpion and the frog.  Here’s the short version from Wikipedia (but it’s a fairly old fable):

A scorpion asks a frog to carry it across a river. The frog hesitates, afraid of being stung, but the scorpion argues that if it did so, they would both drown. Considering this, the frog agrees, but midway across the river the scorpion does indeed sting the frog, dooming them both. When the frog asks the scorpion why, the scorpion replies that it was in its nature to do so.

If you are used to “trying too hard” too often, you risk the possibility of developing a very agreeable personality type that blinds you from staying away from those who may not have good intentions for you. 

This can be a fatal flaw (as you saw our friend the frog do).  You can easily get stung. 

Side note:  I have done this in my own career and warn you against making the same mistake.  If you are too nice and agreeable and always trying hard — you can fail to stay away from negative or toxic co-workers.

Problem 3:  You can hurt your self-respect

Tired man holding his face

Another big problem with “trying too hard” is that you end up hurting your own self respect after some time.

If you “try too hard”, for reasons I mentioned earlier, you are going to frustrate yourself.  You will find that your effort doesn’t give you the results you are looking for (you will find people are hard to control and won’t bend to your try-hard-willpower too often 😉 ).

This can lead you to hurting your self-respect since you are doing things you really don’t want to do and is NOT effective.  You are not honoring any personal boundaries or limits with others, which doesn’t build personal power.

This can lead to shutting others down more quickly or keeping others away subconsciously (think of teenagers or heck, even adults, who break up and remove the other person from facebook since others won’t comply with their affections).

The Paradox:  Try Less = Get More

The paradox is that the more you accept yourself and release acceptance from others (try less to impress others), the more you will be respected for your own opinions and ideas (others will accept you more).

So how can we move to this self-acceptance state?  Here are some tips:

Tip 1:  Ensure you have a “neutral” tone of voice

Boy yelling into old school megaphone

You’ll notice when you are trying too hard, your tone of voice will rise.  This is your “making rapport” tone of voice.  It’s usually higher pitched – signaling that you are not a threat and are eager to make friends.

Example:  When people visit after a long time they’ll usually say “Heeyyyy!!  Great seeing you after so long!”  This tone of voice is definitely more higher pitched — it’s the “making rapport” tone of voice.

Compare this to harsher tone of voice that accompanies people who are used to breaking rapport.  Executives in companies are very OK doing this (as a power move?  I don’t know.  But it doesn’t win friends).

Example:

Timmy:  Good evening Mr. Scrooge!  (Making rapport tone of voice)

Mr. Scrooge:  Bah Ham Bug!  (Breaking rapport tone of voice).

People who use the “making rapport” tone of voice with strangers and new people TOO OFTEN, signal to others that they are too open and eager.  They are “trying too hard”.

Others subconsciously know they are fishing for commonalities or connection without warrant.

So what’s my tip? Aim for neutral tone of voice (or slightly higher energy) when meeting people.  This doesn’t mean be a lame duck — no personality at all.  It just means to cut down your energy and “try-hardness” such that your voice of tone slows down a bit.

Tip 2:  Catch yourself impressing and start expressing

Man peaking behind rock

Start becoming aware when you start getting in your head, and trying to say and do the right thing.

Watch yourself if you’re trying too hard to please and be a certain way for someone else — be it your boss, friends, loved ones, family, or even Facebook (I know many people who won’t post whats on their mind simply because they fear other peoples responses and reactions).

This way of being stifles true self-expression and creates a false way of being.

A lot of people don’t even know they are trying to impress others because impression can be a very subtle thing. Oftentimes you have to catch yourself doing it.

For example, if Tom tries too hard to get to know his boss, this is a form of impression. “Lets go for lunch!” Tom says with a beaming grin. He’s trying too hard and his boss knows it.

Watch when you give opinions and ideas. Is it to get a certain reaction or approval from someone? Even a positive intention like a desire to get an approving nod or a smile from someone can be a form of trying to impress.

Don’t cater to others and also don’t let others stifle your opinions and ideas.  Find your own voice, accept it, and then express it.  Then you can speak without the approval of others. 

People sense you don’t need their approval and THIS is what is truly what wins admiration.

This is what people secretly want. No one wants you to impress them.

Tip 3:  Be a contrarian (do the opposite)

Lone sheep standing out amongst sleeping sheep

It might take a while to embody this idea of true expression with others. While you catch yourself trying to impress, you handy trick is to start saying and doing things intentionally to NOT impress.

This is like being a contrarian.

You tell yourself, “oh man, I know I am going to try to impress him/her, so I will take the opposite approach and not impress him/her.”

This means if you are eager to help out always (your way of “trying too hard”) — maybe you lay low and don’t volunteer this round.

Do the opposite of your “try hard” behavior.

Be careful though.  Too much contrarian-ness may lead to being a jerk!  What we are aiming at is to treat others fairly and with due respect as well as honoring your true self expression and way of being.

Keep at it. Over time you will find a healthy middle ground where you will know how to just express yourself without even worrying about impressing others.

Summary

Trying too hard is a lot of work.  There are a number of problems that can arise in your career as a result.

Some of these problems I mentioned:

  1. Trying to please everyone rarely works and often pushes people away
  2. You fail to see people as they are
  3. You can hurt your self-respect

The cure?  Paradoxically, trying less ends up getting you more (more respect, more affection and friendship, etc.).

Well, here are a few tricks and tips that have worked for me:

  1. Ensure you have a “neutral” tone of voice
  2. Catch yourself impressing and start expressing
  3. Be a contrarian (do the opposite)

What are your thoughts?  Have you experienced “trying hard” in your work and life?  How has that resulted?  I’d love to learn your tricks and tips as well.

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