Avoiding Monsters: Sucker Proofing Your Relationships

A technique for avoiding being taken advantage of — just in time for HALLOWEEN!!!!

Monsters, ghosts, ghouls and bullies come in all shapes. flavors and sizes.  And they certainly don’t limit themselves to one evening a year, either.   But like our Halloween “Trick or Treat” agreements, there is something we can do about it.

I recently gave a workshop called “Spring Cleaning: Decluttering your Home and Heart”. In that workshop, we focused on 3 types of clutter: Material Clutter, Actionable Clutter and Emotional clutter.

During the Emotional Clutter segment of the actual workshop, a student asked a very appropriate question. We were reviewing Don Ruiz’s The Four Agreements (a great book on personal empowerment.  I highly recommend it) as a method for releasing our emotional clutter, when someone asked: “That’s all well and good. But how do I not end up being taken advantage of!”

Excellent! Most of us associate being compassionate, nonjudgmental, and allowing the other to be and do as they please — as laying the foundation to “being taken advantage of”.  It’s very natural to assume this.   But, I’m suggesting, to allow the steam roller to be the steam roller – doesn’t mean to place oneself in its path.

Quick Techniques for avoiding being steamed or rolled over:

  1. Clarify what you want out of this situation as your non-negotiable.
  2. Create or co-create a solution that encompasses your desires without compromising the essence of your goals, vision or passions
  3. Execute your plan without compromise.

Sounds pretty simple, but does it actually work?

One personal true-story example: I have a friend that is, at best very unreliable, at worst very insincere.  He would periodically request a visit with me. He would select the time and place that would be convenient to him, then he would inevitably be at least 40 minutes late and often not show up at all. Each time he would have an excuse.

Although I very much want to keep my agreements (to myself)  to “Not take his actions personally” and to “give him the benefit of the doubt”, I was still left feeling a “sucker”.  This is a feeling that I want to avoid in the future.

1) Clarify what I do want out of this situation.

Well. I know what I do not want which helps me clarify what I do want. I don’t want to feel like a sucker. I don’t want to resent our friendship. I do want to continue to give him the benefit of the doubt. I do want to continue to be non-judgmental. I do enjoy his company when our paths do cross. He tells very entertaining stories, as long as I accept them as tales and not truths. He’s not someone to take seriously or depend upon, but fun and charming all the same. It was a light and minor friendship. I do not want to force an ending to it, but neither do I want to invest much time and effort into it. I wanted our friendship to transpire and expire naturally.

2) Create or co-create a solution that encompasses your desires.

It’s not my responsibility to change him, even if I could. The only effective thing I am able to do is to continue to allow him to be the way he is. The only thing I can do is to change how I respond. If he is unreliable, then I need to avoid going out of my way for him. But that doesn’t necessarily mean, “stop my friendship with him”(although it could mean that). It just means, “avoid going out of my way”.

3) Executing my plan

The next time my friend called to visit, I shared my schedule with him. “Hey, friend. I do enjoy your company. I would love to catch up. I volunteer at Dress For Success at Northgate every Tuesday from 1:00-4:00pm. If you can get there by 4:00pm, we can hang out at the mall. If Tuesday doesn’t work for you, I’ll also be at Loafers on Wednesday and Friday evenings around 8:00pm. If you would like to meet me there, we can hang out and dance. “

My thinking was that if he showed up, I would be pleasantly delighted. If he didn’t show, I would still have a marvelous day or evening. This solution allowed him to be as he is; and I didn’t go out of my way for him.

Now, when my friend calls, he asks, “Hey, L – where will you be on Tuesday afternoon?”

Other quick examples:

  • A team member never delivers his piece of the project on time:  assign him the bells and whistle features.  Although the member is brilliant, he isn’t very dependable.  Giving him things that can easily be postponed to the next release or maintenance pack allows you team to stay on schedule for the most part.  Assign the MUST-HAVE features for delivery to the more reliable team mates.
  • A team member makes too many mistakes and defects in his code.  Re-evaluate his role on the team.  Perhaps he is a brilliant designer or strategic planner.  Perhaps he is better fit for writing the design specifications or the functional requirements.  Perhaps he needs to run the design review meetings and participate in code reviews.
  • A co-worker is often taking your ideas and adding his name to your accomplishments.  Perhaps he is a valued member of your team and a great contributor to many of your teams goals.  Beat him to the punch and openly acknowledge his specific role that he actually did play in the manifestation of the project.  By being the first to acknowledge and appreciate his value to the team, he is less likely to pounce on your accomplishments.   Parlay this with additional emails of congratulations to himself and his management chain.  In these emails, clearly outline what you did and what he assisted you in.
  • Bosses and co-workers continually ask you to donate or attend their favorite charity:  Although you would love to help and want to stay on a good-relationship with them, you just don’t have the funds to assist everyone that comes to you.  Offer something besides money: advertize their charity event on your website or newsletter, place it on your face-book or social media accounts, donate your services/product for them to auction at their event, volunteer to man a booth or collect tickets, etc.  Connect them with other people that are more of a match to their charity, etc.


I find the best solutions are those that keep the integrity of all involved.  Focus on the essence of what YOU want to accomplish as well as what they are asking for.   Spending some time to pinpoint that balance has it’s own rewards.

Do you have any “Sucker Proofing” stories of your own? I would love to hear them.


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