How To Talk So Others Will Listen

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13 Approval seeking behaviours you need to stop

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Approval is like a killer drug. It becomes addictive and you quickly develop a need for more. When you have a need for approval you value the beliefs, opinions and needs of others above your own. Their opinion of your is far more important to you than your own view of yourself. Receiving disapproval becomes a painful experience. Your entire decision making processes are eventually taken over by your need for the approval of others. You cannot take any decisive action without their approval. You sacrifice your own dreams and ambitions in order to have their approval.  Amongst the negative consequences of approval seeking behaviour are:

  • Lack of achievement
  • Lack of personal fulfilment
  • Low self-esteem and confidence levels
  • Reduced performance
  • Increased stress

You may argue that you do not engage in approval seeking behaviour. However, there are common behaviours which you may fail to recognise as approval seeking. Sometimes these behaviours are used as a tactical compromise, to keep the peace, or because the situation is not really that important to you. In some instances, as long as they are not too frequent, it may be useful to allow others to have their way. However, when these behaviours occur too frequently, or are motivated solely by a need for approval, you are adopting an unhealthy behaviour which can lead to severe problems.

Approval seeking behaviours

The following are some of the most common approval seeking behaviours. This is not an exhaustive list.

  1. Changing or softening your position because someone appears to disapprove
  2. Paying insincere compliments to gain approval
  3. Feeling upset, worried, or insulted when someone disagrees with you
  4. Expressing agreement (verbally or non-verbally) when you do not agree
  5. Doing something which you do not want to do because you are afraid to say ‘No’
  6. Failing to complain when you have received poor service or a product not fit for purpose
  7. Spreading bad news and gossip to gain attention
  8. Asking permission when it is not required
  9. Consistently apologising for your words and deeds whether others have expressed disapproval or not e.g. ‘I’m sorry but..’
  10. Pretending to be knowledgeable or an authority on a subject because you are afraid to admit that there is something you do not know.
  11. Attempting to coax people into paying you compliments and/or getting upset when they fail to do so.
  12. Behaving in a non-conforming manner in order to draw attention to yourself.
  13. Any behaviour which is contrary to your identity and purpose, or conflicts with your core beliefs, is generally done to gain the approval of someone else.

The world is not black and white. You are entitled to your own thoughts, beliefs and opinions. Just because you think differently to someone else does not mean that one of you is right and one of you is wrong. It is important to be able to respect the right of others to have their own opinion but to do so; you must first be able to respect your right to have your own opinion. If someone makes a convincing argument, it is perfectly acceptable to change your opinion; however, if they fail to make a convincing argument, you are just as entitled to stick to your own opinion and agree to disagree. Respecting your own views requires you to avoid approval seeking behaviours. Failing to tackle approval seeking behaviour can lead to passive aggressive behaviour. You can learn to deal with approval seeking behaviour and passive aggressive behaviour with our guide to Tackling Passive Aggressive Behaviour.

The biggest irony with approval-seeking behaviour is that it usually produces the opposite results to those which are intended. If you take a moment to consider those people whom you respect most, you will find that one of their strongest traits is their ability to be true to who they are.  They stand up for what they believe in and live by their own values. Approval seeking behaviour is intended to get more approval and respect from others, yet what people generally respect is the very opposite i.e. people who are true to themselves. It is nice to have the approval of others but the way to get it is to have self-approval and self-respect. While modern life conditions people to seek approval; familiarising yourself with the approval seeking behaviours, listed above, will help you to identify when you are seeking approval, allowing you to take corrective action.

One of  the easiest ways to avoid approval seeking is to live a life that is true to your own values. Values Based Living can help.

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  • J

    Excellent post! Most people have a natural tendency to want to be accepted, and in some of us have this tendency has been further reinforced through socialization or our unique life experiences. It is difficult to strike the right balance between being arrogant and being a people-pleaser. The goal is to be authentic (i.e. not compromising your own beliefs) while avoiding being overly aggressive. I find I need to consciously manage my behaviours to approach this result.

    Would love to see more related articles on your site.

    • Carthage Buckley

      Thank your for your insights. It does take regular self-management to ensure that you stay authentic and avoid approval seeking behaviour.

      You will find lots more quality posts throughout the blog. You can even receive them straight to your box by subscribing.

  • Melissa

    Insightful article. Thank you!

    • Carthage Buckley

      Thanks Melissa.

  • Alex

    This is a brilliant article, but would you not suggest that different approval seeking behaviours manifest in different places. IE at home with the family or with colleagues in the work place?

    Is there ever a positive type of approval seeking behaviour?

    Thank you.

    • Carthage Buckley


      Thanks for your comment. It is possible for people to behave differently in different scenarios. For example, some people can be the dominant person in their household while being passive, and seeking approval in the workplace.

      In terms of approval seeking, there is nothing wrong with enjoying when others approve of you. Also, there will be times when you are required to follow the rules set down by others. However, when your behaviour is consistently motivated by the need for others to approve of you, rather than by what you belive to be the correct course of action, this is self-defeating behaviour.

  • Bonnie

    I keep reading your words over and over and again. I meditate them. I pray them. I am trying to replace the self-deprecating inner dialogue I learned somewhere as a little girl with ” You are okay.” People keep asking why in the world would
    did I stay in such an abusive relationship for so long … Always telling me how smart and pretty I am. No matter how people said, I never believed it but I still needed to hear it. The one person who wouldn’t say it and confirmed my feelings of unworthiness, I stuck to him like glue. Carthage, I moved out, my kids and I are safe… Where do I go from here?

    • Carthage Buckley


      Congratulations on taking such a brave step. I am not an expert in the area but there are specialist organisations who help people in your situation. I would recommend that you find one of these organisations in your area. They will offer you good support and advice.

  • Lynn McIntosh

    Thanks for another great article. Saw myself in there! Thanks for the reminder.
    Lynn McIntosh

    • Carthage Buckley

      Lynn, thank you for your feedback. Its nice to know that you enjoyed the article.

  • John Dooner

    An excellent overview with some “hard joins” to self limiting beliefs!

    • Carthage Buckley

      Thank you for the feedback, John.

  • Ed Papson

    Everyone faces the pressure of becoming a follower or a joiner. Bring a member of a group has certain advantages. Conformity has its downsides and it can be a slippery slope to the eventual loss of your identity. The price for “fitting in” is higher than most people imagine. Expressing your own identity also has significant drawbacks – you will be shunned, avoided and left “out”. This is not a problem for those with a solid self-identity and clear understanding of who & what they are. It is a matter of choice: lemming or lone wolf.