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.

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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


Backing down when challenged about your position is one of the most common symptoms of approval seeking behaviour. It is easy to forget that there are very few situations in life where everybody will agree. Furthermore, there is no need for everybody to agree.

Approval seeking behaviour can seriously inhibit performance because everybody performs better when they are forced to think through difficult situations. When you express an opposing view point, your friend/colleague should be open minded enough to consider your view. This doesn’t mean that they must change their mind and adopt your position. But if they honestly consider your views, they will have one of two things happen:

  • They will identify some mistakes in their position which they can rectify or;
  • They will become more confident in their position as it will have withstood the challenges posed by you

We live in a world where everybody has a different opinion and; that is a part of what makes the world such a beautiful place. We are all entitled to our own opinions. Once we don’t discriminate against others, there is really no harm in any opinion. 

Key point

If you do not feel that you can express yourself freely, then you are susceptible to approval seeking and; you might also have to examine your relationships to see if there any additional reasons why you lack the confidence to speak freely.

Values based living

Learning to accept the disapproval of others is much easier when you have clear values.

2. Paying insincere compliments to gain approval


While in this instance, you are not changing your opinion to please others, it is approval seeking because you are pretending to have an opinion different to what your real opinion is. You are paying compliments you don’t mean so that somebody else will like you.

Many people will try to claim they are not approval seeking; saying that they are just being nice but nice and fake are not the same thing. And insincere compliments are most definitely fake. If you want to be nice, you hold back from being unnecessarily cruel with your opinions and judgements.

Of course, the insincere compliment approach may have been successful in the past, but it has been used so much that people have now become accustomed to it. Most people see through it in an instant which leads them to have a worse opinion of you than if you had kept your mouth shut.

So, why be fake when it doesn’t really work anyway?

Key point

Insincere compliments are a fake and contrived effort win the approval of others. Not only do they not work but they have a negative impact. People can see through fake compliments and when they do; they are less likely to find you less trustworthy which damages your future relationship.

Insincere compliments are often a sign of approval seeking. However, they backfire as they are easy to see through; which leads to the other person doubting everything you say.

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3. Feeling upset, worried, or insulted when someone disagrees with you


As I said earlier, everybody is entitled to their own opinion and to adopt their own position in any situation. Just as you should always be free to express your opinion and state your position, they should be just as free.

You will benefit and grow from having other people challenge you. In some cases, you will learn something which will help you to improve while in others you will become more confident in what you think. Either way, you experience a win as a result of the challenge; if you are open minded enough to give it proper consideration.

If you need others to agree with you; you are approval seeking. You are saying that you cannot feel good about yourself or, your views, without the approval of others. But when you are doing so, you are acting as though there is only one right way and one wrong way to do anything.

You must remember that everyone else disagreeing with you doesn’t automatically mean you are wrong. In fact, it is more than possible that both sides of the argument are equally valid.

Key point

There are very few things in life which are black and white. People will always have different opinions and; we are all free to think for ourselves. So, there is no reason to be upset when someone disagrees with you. You don’t really need their agreement. If you think that you do, you are approval seeking.

4. Expressing agreement (verbally or non-verbally) when you do not agree


If you don’t agree with something, why would you say that you do agree with it? The answer comes in two words ‘approval seeking’. You pretend to agree because you want others to like you and, you fear that if you express your disagreement, they will not like you.

But this isn’t a realistic way to look at things. Sure, some people can’t handle other people disagreeing with them, but most people are fine with it, if it is done in a respectful manner.

Think for a moment about the people you most respect in life. Now, think about all the things that you really like about them. You will usually find that one of the things you most like about these people is that they are true to who they are.

They don’t pretend to be something they are not. Almost all people are the same in this regard i.e. they admire people who are authentic. So, if these are the kind of people whom you, and others, admire, why would you pretend to be somebody else by agreeing to things you don’t really agree with?

If you don’t agree, be honest and state your opinion. Of course, you should do this in a respectful manner. Then, if somebody is upset that you disagree, the problem is with them; not you. In overcoming your own approval seeking, you will occasionally encounter the approval seeking of others, but it is not your responsibility to deal with that.

Key point

There are many ways to do just about anything and; to view just about anything. Life would be very boring if we all had the same opinions. It is ok to think different. When you feel obliged to agree with something you don’t really believe, you are approval seeking. You are being untrue to yourself and others.

Communicate with confidence

Learn tocommunicate your views, confidently and clearly with 'How to Talk So Others Listen'.

5. Doing something which you do not want to do because you are afraid to say ‘No’


Perhaps the biggest myth I experience with time management clients is their belief that they need to get more done. Taking this approach to time management is only going to cause problems because the amount of time in each day is not going to increase to cater for the increased workload and you can’t keep squeezing more work in forever.

Instead, the first step to solving time management problems is to identify all the work you are doing that you shouldn’t be doing. And, most of this work comes from other people because you fail to say ‘No’ when they ask.

You don’t want to say ‘No’ for fear that they will be upset with you. You don’t want to risk losing their approval. So, rather than disappoint them, you sacrifice your own time and the things you want to get done.

Fear of losing approval is approval seeking and it will cause problems in many areas of your life; not just time management. Although you may agree to do what the other person asks you to do; you will resent them for asking and it can lead to a great deal of stress in the relationship.

You are likely to blame them for anything that goes wrong as a result of you agreeing to do what they ask of you. But you have no right to blame them. They have the right to ask and it is your duty to say ‘No’ if you don’t really want to do it.

Key point

‘No’ is the one of the most powerful and most important words in the English language. It can save you time, energy, money and even sanity. If you really want to say ‘No’, say it. The world won’t fall apart, and you will become more confident the more you say it.

Negative to Positive

Overcoming your approval seeking behaviour is a giant stride towards living a positive, confident life. Learn more with my FREE eBook - From Negative to Positive.

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6. Failing to complain when you have received poor service or a product not fit for purpose


If you have been provided with poor service or a product not fit for purpose, you have every right to complain. You have the right to expect that you will receive proper service and / or a product which does what it is supposed to do.

I have always found that my American friends are more likely to speak up in these situations and, they are right to do so. Irish people and my British friends seem to be afraid that they are the bad guy by complaining.

There have been times when I have complained where I have been looked at like I have 10 heads for having the temerity to speak up. But all you are doing by complaining is providing honest feedback.

What you need to understand is that if you have a problem with the service or product, the business would prefer you to let them know; albeit it in a respectful manner. By complaining, you are affording them the opportunity to rectify the situation and identify areas where they may need to improve.

Any business that is not willing to receive customer complaints won't be in business for long and, they don’t deserve to be. 

Key point

Remember, if you allow your approval seeking to win by not complaining, you are not just hurting yourself, you are also hurting the business.

Communicate with confidence

Learn to communicate your views, confidently and clearly with 'How to Talk So Others Listen'.

7. Spreading bad news and gossip to gain attention


We often think that a little gossiping isn’t any real harm. In most cases, it is not but what’s important here is the intention behind the gossip. Why are you spreading it? Because if it is to get attention for yourself, then it most certainly is approval seeking. I will give you a rather extreme example of someone who spreads bad news and gossip to gain attention.

I am from a very small town and the nearest hospital is 7 miles away, in a larger town. There was a woman from my home town whose husband worked in the hospital. Every day, she would have stories about which locals had been in the hospital and which wards they had gone into.

She would even tell the locals what medical problems these people had. She was like a news service except the news that she was spreading was not intended for public broadcast.

I’d like to think that you can quickly work out that people who attend a hospital or medical service have the right to privacy. Not only should this woman not have spread their news; she had no right to even know about it.

Her husband was even more guilty than she was for telling her what he was seeing. It always amazed me that none of those she gossiped about ever reported her husband to the Health Board.

This husband and wife combo were not concerned about the welfare of those they were gossiping about. They just wanted to be the centre of attention and get the approval of those with whom they shared the gossip.

Of course, it was the opposite that happened i.e. local people didn’t trust them and had no respect for the way they behaved.

Key point

Spreading gossip is always a form of approval seeking. But it always backfires. While people may like to hear the gossip; they rarely like the person that spreads it. And, they don’t trust you either because if you are willing to talk about others behind their back; you will almost certainly be doing the same to them.

If you spread gossip to get approval from others, it won't work. People might like hearing the gossip but they won't like or, trust you for spreading it.

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8. Asking permission when it is not required


There is a great old saying that I really love which goes like this:

‘It is easier to get forgiveness than permission.’

The saying has become quite popular again, in part due to the writing of Time Ferriss. Tim uses this saying with regard to time management and the way that you make changes to your work processes and practices. He argues that if you ask for permission, you are likely to be told 'No'. But if you just make the changes you want, there probably won’t be any complaints.

And, if there are complaints, you will usually be forgiven as soon as you explain the positive intentions which lay behind the changes that you made.

I totally agree with Tim, but I would take it even further. There are very few situations in life where you need to ask for permission. Maybe there is an organisational structure which requires it, or you want to use assets / possessions which are owned by someone else or, you share ownership of them.

In these cases, you probably will have to ask for permission. But unless you absolutely must ask for permission, I would argue that you shouldn’t ask for it.

When you ask for permission where it is not required, you are telling yourself that the other person is more important than you. You are approval seeking by requiring their validation for what you want to do.

Key point

Asking for permission when it is not needed is an unhealthy habit as it strikes at your own confidence and self-esteem. It also tells others that they are more important than they really are which can cause imbalance and inequality in the relationship.

Unbreakable Self Confidence

Learn to be develop confidence in every area of life with 'Unbreakable Self Confidence'.

9. Consistently apologising for your words and deeds whether others have expressed disapproval or not e.g. ‘I’m sorry but..’


Just because somebody has disagreed with your opinion, it does not mean that you are wrong or need to apologise for it. You are perfectly entitled to have your own opinion and express it. The same is true for your actions.

If you didn’t set out to upset / hurt somebody, why should you have to apologise for what you have said or done? If you are motivated by the need for them to like you or the need for them not to dislike you; you are approval seeking.

It is even worse, when you feel the need to apologise just for the fact that you are saying or doing what you want, when nobody has expressed disapproval. It is like you are apologising for being you. In fact, that is what you are doing.

There will always be some people who disagree with or disapprove of you; no matter what you say or do so stop bowing to their demands. Stand up for yourself and be true to yourself.

Stride forward in your life with confidence.

Key point

There is never a good reason to apologise for being you. Speak form the heart, listen with an open mind and act with good intentions. Once you manage that, you just have to accept that you can’t please everybody.

Unlock Your Self Esteem

If you are constantly undermining yourself like this, you need to raise your self-esteem; check out 'Unlock Your Self-Esteem'.

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.


Remember when you were a school kid and the worst thing that anybody could say about you was that you were stupid? You then went into class and the teacher would ask the students questions in front of the class and you didn't know the answers.

Maybe the teacher asked you to read in front of the class and you struggled with the big words. It felt like the whole class was laughing at you and you couldn’t handle it. Truth be known, your classmates and teacher will have thought nothing of it.

Like most of us, you have probably had worse insults thrown at you since; but the fear of being seen as stupid still has a massive influence on you. So much so, that you will go to any lengths to make yourself look intelligent.

When people talk about a subject which you don’t know a lot about, you fake it. You act like you are an expert in the hope that they will think you are intelligent.

This form of approval seeking is one of the most pointless. There is so much to know in this world that nobody could ever know more than a tiny percentage of it. And, nobody realistically expects anybody else to know everything. You’re unlikely to be shot for saying

‘I don’t know anything about that’.

In fact, I challenge you to give that response to somebody today, even if you do know something about the topic. Just to see how the world doesn’t fall apart when you admit that you don’t know something.

Key point

Nobody can be expected to know everything. It is far better to acknowledge that you don’t know something than pretend to be an expert. When you are caught out, you will look far worse than you would have if you were honest to start with.

Nobody expects you to know everything so, stop pretending that you do. It's ok to say 'I don't know.'

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11. Attempting to coax people into paying you compliments and/or getting upset when they fail to do so


The approval seeking behaviour of trying to coax people into paying you compliments has been around for a long time but there is one thing which has made it more popular and noticeable in recent years – social media. Social media has made it so much easier to seek instant attention, validation and approval from both friends and virtual strangers.

How often have you seen these types of behaviours online?

  • Telling a sad story so that friends will rush in with ‘Are you ok babes?’ or ‘You deserve so much better than that!’
  • Sharing every unnecessary detail of your life in the hope of getting ‘likes’
  • Wishing a child a ‘Happy Birthday’ even though the child can’t use a computer and probably can’t read either i.e. the message isn’t for the child’s benefit
  • Posting photos and selfies in the hope of getting approval
  • Celebrities airbrushing/manipulating photos to give a better impression of themselves
  • Hero stories – any story which is designed to make you look like a hero

These types of approval seeking behaviours are usually easy to spot online. But many of these behaviours also happen in the real world too. They may not be easy to spot but when you think about the intentions behind the actions, you realise that the person is looking for compliments, validation and approval.

Key point

You don’t need anybody else’s attention to feel good about yourself. If you think that you do, it is approval seeking. The sincerest form of happiness comes from being yourself; whether others even notice, or not.

12. Behaving in a non-conforming manner in order to draw attention to yourself


I have repeatedly stressed that you have the right to express a different view or belief to other people. You are entitled to disagree. But there is one key point here which I must mention – you must be authentic. The views or beliefs you express should be your own. The actions you take should be the actions you actually want to take.

Being different for the sake of being different may lead you to believe that you are not seeking the approval of others but it is actually a form of approval seeking because what you really want is for people to think you are ‘cool’ for standing out there on your own.

This is a form of approval seeking which I adopted far too many times in my life. Sometimes, I would think my words and actions were right, but I would make sure that everybody knew I was taking a different position. I wanted the attention that came with being different.

f I didn’t want that attention, I would have been able to respect my different position without shoving it in everybody else’s face. There were also times when I took the different position just to be different.

Key point

What is ridiculous about this approval seeking method is that even when you disagree with others, the difference is rarely so big as to make you stand out for being different. So, if you want to get any real mileage out of this method, you need to really exaggerate the difference. This then makes it far too obvious that you are disagreeing for the attention that it brings.

Negative to Positive

Overcoming your approval seeking behaviour is a giant stride towards living a positive, confident life. Learn more with my FREE eBook - From Negative to Positive.

Get Your FREE Copy Here

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


At the heart of everything that I do and teach is to be able to express your individuality while remaining connected to the society which you live in. I believe that the ultimate form of success is to live a happy and healthy life while being true to who you are. And make no mistake, you are a unique individual.

Your purpose, values and beliefs will differ from others. You will share some beliefs and values but there will certainly be some differences. While this allows you to express your individuality, the differences are rarely enough to make it difficult for you to enjoy amicable and supportive relationships.

It is important that you be authentic and live true to your values and beliefs because this is the very essence of who you are. When you act contrary to your values and beliefs, you are approval seeking because you are doing / saying something which you don’t really believe. You are doing this to gain the approval of others.

You may feel like you are gaining their approval, but you are subjecting yourself to the ultimate form of self-rejection by placing the values and beliefs of somebody else above those of your own.

Key point

What is ridiculous about this approval seeking method is that even when you disagree with others, the difference is rarely so big as to make you stand out for being different. So, if you want to get any real mileage out of this method, you need to really exaggerate the difference. This then makes it far too obvious that you are disagreeing for the attention that it brings.

Values Based Living

The real key to overcoming approval seeking behaviour is to be safe in secure and your own sense of self. Being clear on your values and, living true to those values is a surefire sign that you are safe and secure.

Get clear on your values with 'Values Based Living'.

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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.


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