Strings Attached

Most people don’t like to feel as if they are manipulated into something. When it comes to business transactions we have all learned (I hope!) to read the small print. But when it comes to personal transactions most of us are much less aware of the small print – on either side of the transaction.

More often than not it is not so much the hidden expectations of others than bother us – after all, we can easily discard those as having been unrealistic, not communicated beforehand, and simply not part of the deal we were striking. If a friend is going shopping anyway and brings some of our groceries with them, the deal is finished by us reimbursing the costs. Or is it?

Can you do it?

Can you do it?

If you look at yourself, how often is it that you give something – time, attention, assistance for instance – freely? Really without any strings attached? Of course we would all initially say that this happens all the time. Why then, are we so often disappointed with others? If we were indeed giving freely and not expecting anything in return, how come we so often feel that others are letting us down? How come we are comparing our own investments with those of the receiver and finding them at fault? When she was in the hospital for a month I called her every day, and now that I have been fired from my job she called me only once!

If we are honest with ourselves we usually do expect something in return. Perhaps not on the spot, but still there are expectations that are often not met. And that’s when they start nagging at us: Why is she not calling me now that I need her attention? Why did I recommend her for a job and helped her get it and now that she can hire others she is forgetting about me? Why did I go to such length to buy a tailor-made birthday gift and is he buying me something he should know I don’t even like? Why did I invest hours of my time helping someone with excel if they never acknowledge that it was my help that gave them the edge in the bid?

Admit it: you, too, have had such thoughts at some point! OK, I have. I admit it. But less and less.

When I have looked at those situations I have come to realise that the main question you should always allow yourself time to consider is this: do I really want to do this? And don’t automatically say yes to that, but think about these sub-questions: Is it truly my own wish to do this? Can I give this freely? Do I have sufficient time and energy left to invest in this now? Will I feel tricked if the receiver simply thanks me, and that’s that? Why would I regret it if I don’t do it?

And the killer question: what’s in it for me, right now? Not: what will be in it for me if I do this and the receiver will subsequently do this or that, but what’s in it for me giving this right now? What if the transaction ends with your part of the deal (your phone calls, your recommendation for a job, your time investment in the birthday gift or the excel crash course for instance) – what will you have gained then? Will you have honoured a value that is important to you? Will you have done something you like to do? Will you have learned something new?

I found that it really helps to take time to consider such questions before deciding to do something or not to do it at this point in time. If you can get clear why you are giving something of yourself to another before you do it, you will find that whatever happens later on you will feel less disappointed with the other and will feel fewer regrets about what you have done. I know that’s true for me at least, even if I may not yet have perfected this practice.

To put it businesslike: your return on investment will be bigger because you will invest in the things that are right for you for the right reasons. Your decision about what to do will be about you and not about the other and his or her possible actions afterwards. Those are the kind of decisions that you will not regret later on because you will be able to remember vividly the reasons for doing what you did. These are decisions that do not have small print and do not have strings attached for either party.

Set yourself and the other free by trying to give genuinely freely – and see if you won’t feel a huge difference in satisfaction, as I certainly have when I managed to be 100% honest with myself!


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