How to Deal With People Who Change Their Colors

06/13/2015 11:52 pm ET | Updated Jun 13, 2016

Over the years, I have heard about the "People are opportunistic..." argument in many different variations.

A couple of scenarios that stands out are as follows:

Five years ago you tried to reach out to a CEO of a company for some advice on your planned startup and you didn't get his attention. Today, you are running a growing business and the same CEO reaches out to you for a strategic partnership. You smile because you remember what happened in the past.

Three years ago you tried to reach out to a successful author to ask for some advice about your planned first book writing project. You got back some canned response and good wishes in return. Today, your book is a bestseller and the same author who didn't give you the time of her life is back connecting with you for help with her book launch. You smile again...

You might have your own version of the above scenarios. I do.

The real questions are:

1. How do such events affect your outlook on the people involved?

2. What is the cost to you if you for having that outlook?

3. How can you interpret what happened in a more powerful way?

Let us dig deeper into all the above.

To start with, if what happened does not bother you much, you can skip reading the rest of the article as nothing else needs to change.

However, if there is even a hint of ill will, you need to stop, think and reflect. There is a better and more powerful way of looking at this.

First, let quickly reframe the above scenarios briefly and then expand on the reframe

Forget about whether people are opportunistic or not because YOU too are like everyone else. In the above scenarios, people didn't change, YOU changed. You grew to a level that represented a positive possibility for them. Your growth is what prompted them to approach you differently.

Now, let me expand on this.

1. The stats don't lie

For every hundred inbound requests a busy person gets for his or her mindshare, only one or two of them turn out to be successful like you. Plus, your request is one of the dozens of requests they are fielding simultaneously. They are not clairvoyant to determine which request is REAL and which one is in the "riff raff" category. They also have very limited time to decide "how" to respond to your request. They too are human, so they make mistakes.

2. Your capacity to positively contribute hugely influences how they respond

When you started out, your capacity to positively contributed seemed limited. Hence, they could not give a lot of their mindshare. When you have accumulated a set of meaningful accomplishments, it was clear that you raised the game. Your capacity to positively contribute was not in question. They are happy to extend their mindshare more.

Note: Over the years if your capacity to contribute didn't change much, the same people would have treated you the way they treated you a few years ago. It is YOU who are changing to deserve better attention.


3. Your thoughtfulness on crafting the request influences their actions as well

A request like "Can I buy you a lunch so that we discuss our business plan?" is out of place when you have not established a relationship deep enough to make such requests. Asking right is an art that you have to consciously develop with care.

4. It's worth reflecting on your own approach when you are on the other side

You probably are on the other side of the equation where YOU are fielding requests for your 1-1 mindshare. Reflect on how you are handling those requests and it will give a clue on why people treated you the way they did at a point in your history.

Closing comment: Don't worry too much about whether people are opportunistic or not. It matters, but not as much as you think. What really matters is to know that only way you can open new possibilities for you is if you keep growing and keep proving that you are a positive possibility for those that matter most to you.