“Most of us only put in as much effort as a situation is required from us. If we can get away with being less considerate, or less reciprocal and various other forms of getting without giving, many of us will, not because we’re evil, but simply because we can. If people demanded, or expected more of us, we would do more. But, when they don’t, we don’t make the effort.” – Guy Winch Ph.D.
When a relationship with another human is first established, an unconscious set of ground rules are also established. This is true for acquaintances, co-workers, family members, romantic partners and lasting friendships.
If, at first, we are attentive to every word our friend speaks, encouraging of their efforts and act as a basic cheerleader, we are setting a ground rule that we will forever be this way. Our friend, delighted to find a witness and support for their ongoing life troubles, is happy to keep us as their friend because they are getting something very special out of the encounter.
Pay attention to the word “getting” as it is very important.
With all our attentions to our friends, we also may expect something out of them. We may expect to get the same support for our life troubles and trials. We may expect them to come to our parties and even help us move or watch our kids.
But some of us fail to communicate what we expect to “get” out of this encounter. This causes numerous problems that causes the relationship to weaken and even disappear over time.
But before we get into the death of our relationships, let’s first look at why we didn’t set proper expectations.
Some of us fear that if we talk about ourselves during a new encounter, we will appear as selfish, greedy or too talkative. Consequently, that person will wander away and not be our friend. Since we love making new friends, we want to prevent this.
Over time, we learn that people love to dominate the conversation with their life dramas, and as the quote above indicates, they love to “get” a lot out of an encounter without “giving back.” In nature, this is known as energy conservation. It is the preferred modus operandi of all living creatures.
We learn to never share, to only ask questions to the other party and keep the encounter going. We are delighted to do this because we love learning about new people and we truly want to make friendships that last.
But over time, we realize the friendship is entirely one-sided.
You are familiar with this situation. You book a lunch and shopping date with a friend and jolly along from one place to another with them for hours. But on the car ride back home you realize you feel exhausted and irritated. You think back on the entire activity and realize that your friend did not once ask a question about you. The closest they came was when they paused to ask your opinion on something they were about to buy.
This damages our self-esteem in many ways. We wonder why no one finds us interesting or worthy of a life witness. We may do an evaluation of all our friendships and find out they are generally this way. We are giving a whole hell of a lot but getting nothing back at all. We stop calling our friend and label them as “narcissistic” and “selfish.”
It’s important not to blame our friends. After all, if every time we passed a Starbucks they gave us free lattes, we would visit the Starbucks over and over again, without thinking about giving one cent back to the clown behind the register.
Similarly, our friends continue to surface and continue to take. Essentially, we are giving enormous amounts of our personal resources for free! What could be better for them?
At the outset of every relationship, clearly communicate what you want out of the person by establishing a pattern. If you need help with your work, ask them! If you want to talk about your life dramas, talk about them! Be sure to allow them to do the same. Do this for the first several times you talk. The first encounter won’t be enough.
Promise to give to them (and actually do give to them) but also ask to take from them (and actually do take from them!)
The great news is that most people will accept the terms if they feel you are a quality person.
The greater news is that the people who don’t accept the terms and walk away didn’t have the resources anyway and would have been “narcissistic” and “selfish” throughout your entire relationship. Avoiding those people on the outset will save you from being their bridesmaid for their three subsequent marriages, will save you lots of time and money and it will help you keep your self-esteem intact.
Thinking back on all my best friendships, I have gotten just about as much as I have given. There were times where we each needed each other more than others, but by then, there was enough cash in our emotional bank accounts to cover the debt.
But many, many relationships of mine ended when I realized it was entirely one-sided, that I was giving and giving and never getting anything. This usually took me years to realize.
On some occasions, a relationship ended because I simply was not willing to give all my friend was asking. The price was simply too high and I did not see the payoff as worth it. I did not see how they would give back. Typically, my refusal to give what they were asking caused the person to feel wounded and rejected and our friendship limped along toward oblivion or immediately ended.
Other friendships died when I hogged their resources at the outset and, unwilling to continue, they bolted.
It can be helpful for writers and entrepreneurs to interpret rejection using this model. When money is involved, the other guy has to see your writing or business as an enormous fountain of resources in order for them to enter into contract negotiations with you. Rest assured, the moment your resources fail to deliver, they will drop you like yesterday’s laundry. People are often confounded when this happens.
Conversely, using this model can help you align your givable resources to what a partner or publisher needs in order to make the deal happen in the first place.
1. Raise your standards. How much are you worth? If you don’t think your friendship is worth much, you will attract those who won’t pay as much.
2. Don’t fear rejection. Those who reject you aren’t willing to give all you are asking and simply are looking for the “easy get.”
3. Have the courage to demand as much out of the relationship as you are willing to give.
4. Let go of relationships that are one-sided or attempt to slowly re-establish a new norm.
5. Realize that if your friend has wandered away, it’s because they stopped “getting” what they want from you. Either give it again or celebrate that you removed a lead weight off your back.
6. In circumstances where you need a deal to happen, a contract to be signed, align your offering to meet their needs.
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