If you live long enough, you start to notice recurring themes, repeating patterns, and retold stories in your life.
One of mine is in the type of friends I lose.
The pattern seems to go a little like this; they meet me, they admire me, they praise me, they start to monopolize me, they get upset if I am not available to them when they want me to be, they get more upset if I won't do something they want me to do, I get upset, I push back, they tell me how over-sensitive, demanding, and uncooperative I've turned out to be. And boom! We aren't friends any more.
Being a consultant and coach to entrepreneurs, a lot of my business associates and clients have also become friends. And I noticed that pattern was beginning to emerge in my professional relationships as well.
It's going on two years now since the last time I allowed that pattern to repeat, since the last traumatic blow up that cost me someone I'd previously called a friend, I can honestly say that my life is sweeter, my business healthier, my confidence higher, and my friendships more genuine than at any other time in my life -- because I have changed how I show up, and that has changed the type of people I attract into my life and business.
From my reflection on the patterns that emerged I have four pieces of advice for anyone who is in business, anyone who does business with friends, or anyone who has friends.
#1 - Know what people want versus what they value
When I examine my most tear-filled, heart-hurting, angry breakups with friends, going back to Mary in the second grade, I know many of them happened because one thing they liked best about me was that I didn't value myself. I attracted people who were looking for a "wind beneath the wings" person. Someone who cast the spotlight rather than craved it. Not all of my friends, but this particular kind of friend, wanted to be the star and I loved making them feel like one.
There is NOTHING wrong with being the wind or the spotlight. Nothing wrong with making others shine brighter, or look better. I used to say I was the best ASSISTANT director in the world, because I loved being the second banana to someone who was really good at what they did.
And I still do. Helping other people learn to shine is a lot of the joy of being a coach. But I no longer attract friends who expect me to stay out of their spotlight, to always be lifting them up. I no longer attract business associates who take my words or ideas and make them their own. I no longer allow others to belittle my role just because I prefer to be the behind the scenes expert rather than the leading lady.
The problem wasn't that I attracted people who valued my behind the scenes skills. It was that I attracted people who wanted that from me as a friend, but didn't value it enough to respect it, and certainly not enough to pay for it.
#2 - Know your own worth
When you know your own worth you don't attract those who devalue you. One reason my business has soared since leaving those friends behind is that I don't have people who devalue my talents in order to feel better for taking advantage of them. Coaching isn't the only profession that attracts a lot of people who want what we offer, but who think "it's just talking why should I pay for it?" Most advisors, entrepreneurs, and creatives, have been asked out to coffee because someone wanted to pick their brain.
I was attracting friends who leaned on my coaching skills when I was still in grade school. Of course, I didn't know that then. But it's obvious on reflection. I also had people want to be friends to copy off my tests and get me to help with their essays too, but I knew my intellectual worth and those people didn't get very far with me. There is a lesson in that. We don't let people have a free ride off of what we value in ourselves, but if we don't know what something is worth we don't even notice when they take it without payment or appreciation.
People think it's just my time they're taking when they ask for a cup of coffee or a call. And friends are always welcome to my time. So I didn't notice that they were taking something far more valuable, they were taking my emotional bandwidth, my creative energy, my problem-solving ability, and my deepest, most genuine gift and equating it with "coffee with a friend."
Now that I have a better understanding of what my gift is worth I have more of it for my own business and for clients. And because I don't throw it out to the world mindlessly I attract people who appreciate it when I gift it to them. I have people who recommend me to other people as a highly valued resource, not a "you should talk to my friend Dixie." Being valued is good for business. It is also good for your sense of self-worth. If you don't hold yourself in high esteem you cannot expect that anyone else will.
#3 - Notice their patterns in other relationships
Had I paid attention to how my ex-friends related to other people in their life I would not have been surprised when our relationship blew up. Hindsight, as they say, is 20/20, and I can see that the way they ultimately treated me has precedent in the way they treated others.
If someone has an anger management problem when someone else doesn't do what they want them to do, they'll probably strike out at you if you don't do as they ask.
If someone is proprietary in their relationships, they will probably develop the idea that they "own" you and will be hurt, offended, even outraged, if you aren't immediately and unconditionally available to them. If someone is highly competitive toward everyone else and is used to being treated as top dog, you can expect backlash if you rise above them in any aspect of your relationship.
Choose your friends, and business associates, as much by how they treat others as you do by how they treat you. Because you will be the "other" someday and, no matter how strong your friendship seem to be now, you can expect that they will treat you in the same manner.
#4 - Establish fair and firm expectations
Working with friends is tricky, but when it works it is also fabulous. One of the trickiest areas though, is that when it's working, and it feels so fabulous, it's tempting to get lax about communication. It's easy to take your bond for granted and figure "we'll just work it out."
Even the best relationship, with the most wonderful person in the world, can be undermined, even devastated, when you have different expectations of contribution and reward. Keep the transactional parts of your relationship clearly defined so that the relational aspects can flourish unhindered by things unsaid, things assumed, things misunderstood, and things misconstrued.
Take a look at your friendships, business and personal, and ask yourself if you're valued, if you know your true worth in the relationship, if you would want to be treated the way you see that person treating other people, and if you have fair and firm expectations when you have transactions between you.
You might be surprised at how many of your friendships are at risk.
Originally posted on The Good Men Project
Photo: Flickr/Gareth Williams