You Can’t Please Everyone

I once heard that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again while expecting a different result. Well I’d like to add a second definition: trying to please everyone. Trying to make everyone in a group happy ranges from difficult to impossible and the only guarantee you have is that you’ll wish you never tried.

This topic comes up frequently in both my public speaking and networking classes as people are concerned about what others think. I think we all have a natural tendency to focus on the audience members that aren’t paying attention to us during a speech or the folks at a networking event that say “it was nice to meet you – I see a client on the other side of the room” immediately after you introduce yourself.

Outside of speaking and networking, we face this problem as business owners, managers and even with our friends and family. If you really want to torture yourself, try planning a vacation with 20+ of your closest friends – at the end, you’ll be extremely lucky if you walk away with the same amount of friends.

The bottom line is that we’re all unique – for better or for worse – and therefore the one-size-fits-all mentality rarely applies to real life situations. To further complicate things, just as there are some folks that are easy going and easy to please, there are others that are downright grumpy and find fault with everything. Most of us fall somewhere in the middle where we have reasonable expectations and as long as an effort has been made to meet those expectations, we’re satisfied.

So what is one to do? Give up? Live in a cave? Of course not. You simply need to set the expectation that not everyone will go along with what you plan/say/attempt/etc…. If everyone does go along with it and they’re happy, then great. If they don’t, you’re not surprises, or worse, disappointed.

Politicians deal with this each day. Sometimes they start with 40-50% of their electorate in opposition to them. Additionally, they have factions within their own party that voted for them not because they were the best choice, but because they were a better choice than the person from the other party. This is true for anyone in any position of leadership or authority and the higher you rise on the ladder of success, the more people will oppose your ideas, actions and decisions. Even if you have two or three folks working for you, you’ll have times where you make a decision that one or more of them may disagree with.

The trick for handling this is doing what’s best for the group that you’re responsible for pleasing. That’s a bit of a loaded sentence so I’ll give some examples. If you’re a business owner, you need to do what’s best for your business as a whole so that it can survive and thrive. Sometimes it’ll upset the majority of your employees and/or clients, but keep in mind that the number one goal of a business is to stay in business.

If you work for a company, you need to do what’s best for the company first then what’s best for your workgroup second. Keeping your subordinates happy is extremely important but if your company goes out of business, they won’t be happy for long. This may sound a bit extreme and it can be a bit of a grey area because often, your employer’s success depends on the dedication (and, yes, happiness) of its workforce so not all situations will be black and white. When I was managing a small group over a decade ago, we moved our facility over 30 miles. I brought on more people to support the move because I thought it was best for my group even though it cost the company more money up front. However, it made the move go substantially smoother (we completed our portion of the move – moving 3000 square feet of archives – in half the time) and prevented any service interruptions during the move (otherwise, we would have had to stop our operations to deal with the move) which in turn benefited the company. The groups we supported were less stressed because we still able to help them and my folks weren’t spread too thin. So again, this usually isn’t black and white.

With an organization such a trade group or a club, you need to do what’s best for the organization. Even when I was President of my Toastmasters club, I made decisions that I thought were in the best interest of the club. Although most of the membership was onboard and open to the changes that I and others suggested, there were still a handful of people that didn’t like them (and some even quit the club).

With family and friends, things are a bit tricky because pleasing the majority can mean that someone with different tastes and interests might feel a bit left out. Again, you need to do what’s best for the group so things like selecting a date or set of dates for an activity have to be based on the majority the first time and then cater to the minority that couldn’t make it, yet is still interested, the next time.

Anything that costs money needs to consider the majority as well and that affects both ends of the spectrum. If someone in the group has expensive tastes that the majority of the group can’t afford, then it makes sense to pick a more moderately priced activity or accommodation. On the flip side, if you’re planning a trip to a particular destination such as a foreign country and one member of the group can only afford to travel to the nearest major city, then he or she might need to wait until the next trip.

Family and friends are more difficult to deal with because the good of the group often translates to something for everyone. As a picky eater, I’m often the most difficult to please when selecting a restaurant but I often put the responsibility on myself to eat beforehand or find something I can customize on the menu to meet my tastes. With that being said, if I were on vacation with friends or family and had to do that at every meal, I’d be a bit annoyed. But it wouldn’t be fair for me to expect everyone to forgo their favorite meals to meet my needs by eating only at places I liked, so everyone needs to understand that everyone has to give and take.

Now to switch gears back to the original point of this article, when you’re giving a speech the group you need to please can be a bit tricky. You expect it to be your audience, which is correct in many cases, but this situation is similar to the manager’s conundrum. If you were hired to give the presentation, then the group you need to please first is the organization that hired you. Now sometimes they take precedence over the audience’s needs, but just like in the workplace when your subordinates needs can affect the company, your audience’s opinion on your talk can affect the feelings of the person who hired you to give the talk. An example of this is that if you’re hired to talk about a topic that you don’t present as well as other topics, it’s more important for you to speak about the topic that you’ve been asked to speak on than the one that gets the audience members swinging from the rafters.

With that being said, you’ll want to make sure that the majority of your audience is happy with your presentation. If 90% of your audience is attentive and looks interested, don’t worry about the rest. In my posts about hostile audiences, I get into many of the reasons that people are not paying attention to your talk. But the bottom line is that your energy is often better focused on those who are interested as opposed to those who are only attending because they have to.

Trying to make everyone in a group happy can be challenging and not an absolute necessity. It’s up to you to judge your own situation and determine what the best course of action is. Just keep in mind that there are people that have become extremely successful by only pleasing a slim majority of their intended audience.

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