How to get what you want from others

I’m over it! Doesn’t matter what I do for Stewie, he never gives anything back. I just needed a lift from the mechanic, and he virtually lives next door to it! Said he’s busy! Then he has a go at me, for being entitled, me! After all I’ve done for him. Story of my life – doesn’t matter how much you give, I’m getting nothing but trouble in return.

Retired dog trainer, Warren*, was feeling beaten down by life. He had just fallen out with this brother, Stewie, and was now socially isolated and angry. Warren had a Self-Sacrifice Schema, and therefore his give/get ratio was out of whack. Put simply, Warren is a giver. But Warren expected others to being just as willing to give, and they weren’t. This had made him very resentful with other people. And this resentment made Warren very hard to be around. He often rubbed it in others faces, that he had done so much for them. People stopped asking Warren for favours, started avoiding him.

Warren’s problem was simple, how to get others to give instead of take. Luckily, Warren’s dog training experience provided a ready example of how to do this. We imagined two dog trainers:

Doug wants to teach Fido to stay. Doug gives lots of treats to Fido, in the hope that Fido will like him and listen to him when he asks Fido to stay. Fido learns that Doug gives treats but does not learn to stay.

Kathy has a different strategy. She asks Fido to stay and waits until Fido does stay. Each time Fido stays, she gives him a treat. Fido learns that Kathy has treats, and that if he wants one, he must stay.

Warren knew immediately that Kathy’s strategy would work better, and instinctively knew where he’d been going wrong. We began working on how to become a gracious receiver. These are the steps we followed:

  1. Stop expecting that people will give back to you if you have done them favours. Warren naturally liked to help out. His reward for helping out was that it made him feel good. But because Warren had been rubbing his good deeds in others faces, they had stopped accepting favours from him. Warren had lost out more than his friends and family – he liked doing favours! Warren stopped complaining about what others didn’t do for him.
  2. The second step was to notice when others were doing something good for him. This was hard for Warren. He gave so much that he felt others’ favours were small and insignificant. Or, Warren sometimes felt uncomfortable accepting good things – it made him feel like he owed a favour in return. Warren began to practice noticing the little nice things people did for him, like being made a cup of coffee or a phone call out of the blue.
  3. Thirdly, Warren began to reward the nice behaviour. He became a gracious receiver. He began to become comfortable saying things like “it’s so nice that you called”, or “How lovely that you’ve made me a cup of coffee”. Just like Kathy with Fido, Warren was rewarding the behaviour that he wanted from others.

Through this process, Warren’s life began to change. People started wanting to spend time with him again. Seeing Warren be gracious, made others act graciously as well. Warren became less bitter and isolated. Eventually, Warren also learnt to not give more than he was capable of giving. He learnt who the good people in his life were, and spent more time giving with them. But he didn’t forget his lesson to reward giving behaviour, he remained a gracious receiver.

* All names and key details changed to protect anonymity

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