blog Nov 11, 2010

In the beginning of any professional or personal relationship, expectations are formed. Once those expectations are formed, some of them may become persistent for future behavior. For example, let’s say a man starts dating a woman and for the first couple months often takes her out for one hundred dollar dinners. All of a sudden, one night, they decide to order in. No matter how down to earth the woman is, she will be a little disappointed. Not out of any snobbery, but because she is too used to the precedence of going out to a lavish dinner every week.

In business, it’s the same issue. A manager needs to be a little difficult in the beginning to set the tone of their professional relationships. It’s a lot easier to loosen up after some time, but it’s much more difficult to tighten the reigns once the precedence has been set.

At the beginning of any relationship, we all want to be the nice guy (okay, maybe not everybody). We want to show off how cool we are. It’s not easy to always be the bad guy. No matter what people say, life is a popularity contest.

As a disabled person, I need a lot of help and oftentimes it feels that people are doing me a favor by helping me out. There were times when something was bothering me and I would just let it slide because I said to myself, they’re helping me out. But did I do the right thing? Maybe in certain circumstances I did, but oftentimes I was setting a precedent that if I broke, I would feel like a jerk. That’s the last thing I wanted to do. (They like me, they really like me!)

The lesson here is to be careful what precedent you are set early on. Ask yourself these questions:

  • Am I planning to continue this behavior? In the example above, is the guy going to keep buying lavish dinners or is he just showing off?
  • Do you discuss the precedence? (i.e. if you have a new employee and he or she needs to leave early the second week of work, do you discuss that this is only a special occasion and make it crystal clear that it’s not a precedent?)

In the long run, you look like a nicer person if you seem a little difficult in the beginning. What happens is that it’s easier to turn a no into a yes rather than the other way around. I’m not saying that you should be a jerk right off the bat, I’m just saying that being a little bit difficult in the beginning sends a notion that defines the relationship early on, which ultimately is better for both parties because both parties understand the roles in the relationship better.

When circumstances change, expectations change. What do I mean by that? Let’s say that you get a big promotion at work and let’s say that your salary increases. Your first instinct is to take all your friends out for drinks and that night you don’t care if your tab $100 or $1,000. But, you run the risk of setting a new precedent. Sometimes we have to hold back our instincts and think in the long term. When my family won the lottery, I wanted to pay for everything when I went out with my friends but I knew that if I did that eventually when I stopped, I would look like a jerk. Don’t get me wrong, I went out a lot with my friends, I just got back from Vegas, where I took care of the room at the Bellagio but I am very conscious of not going too far. Which is oftentimes against my instincts. If you do this, you might run the risk of setting a brand new precedent and your friends might think that this is a new paradigm in your relationship, which it might just be.

So go out there and be a jerk!

Timelapse - Lighthouse (Oct 2012) from IMK Digital Multimedia on Vimeo.


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