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How to respond when someone underappreciates what you bring to the table

Was cleaning up my network this morning and noticed an old email exchange from last year.

The context is that I had offered to help a former contact of mine in any way I could.

In response, she sent this:

It looks like she wants to know if there is a way that I can add value here (i.e. do I know anyone who might be a fit) before requesting that value somehow (such as by asking for a referral to those people who I feel might be a fit).

Personally, though, I would've preferred if she would've been more direct about what she was really looking for upfront, which is referrals.

For example, saying something like:

A: Dear Ali,

Happy Memorial Day weekend!

You asked me before if there was anything you could do to help (notice the word "help" which underlines that it would be helpful as a form of credit-acknowledgment) and there is one thing.

On June 1st I'm hosting a reading challenge in my Facebook group. Participants will be reading eight books during the month. They'll get training and support to successfully get through the books. My ask is if you know anyone who might benefit from participating.

They'll learn selective reading and how to synthesize the information from the books they read. So, if you know anyone who might be a fit, please let me know as I'd love to have them be a part of our group (makes it clear she's really looking for referrals) (and, of course, I'd be very grateful for anyone you send my way 🙂 ) (expresses gratitude to show you understand the receiver gets nothing out of this and you'll be making it up to them in the future).

If not, all good, hope you have a great day either way (shows a cool-headed, detached, laid back attitude which positively de-emphasizes persuasion).

Best regards,

A

By leaving that part out, it feels like:

  • Emotional manipulation (lying by omission): you're asking if I know anyone who might be a fit for your group, but is that all? If I answer "yes", are you going to simply walk away? No, you're going to ask me for a referral to those people next. So, why not say that upfront? Your subject line says, "A question for you," but let's be real here, you really mean, "A favor for me."
  • Social exchange manipulation (credit withholding): there's no gratitude, she has no social capital, and she refuses to acknowledge it as a favor.
  • Covert requesting: she frames it as only being a simple "question" about my capacity to give and not a request for me to give.

Based on our previous conversations and now this email, it felt like she was a potential taker.

So, I purposely answered her real question ("yes, I'd be happy to give you any referrals that I think could be a fit") and asked directly if that would be helpful.

A more socially calibrated response might've been to:

  1. Leave the last line (that's highlighted in yellow) out of the email
  2. Then, assess her response for signs of gratitude, fairness, and a general win-win attitude

Or, maybe, leave off on a statement like this:

Ali: "Based on what you've said so far, it seems like this would be helpful for your reading challenge. But, of course, you'd have to agree :).

Let me know what you think."

But, I did it on purpose to invite her to say "yes, thank you" if it is, in fact, helpful.

Instead, she completely ignores the invitation for a more win-win exchange and goes straight into getting what she can from me:

So, I ignored her message and disconnected her from my network.

There were other options too such as "negotiating" this exchange. But, that would run the risk of me coming across as a social bean counter. And, it would only leave me in an exchange with someone who doesn't yet fully understand how win-win exchanges work (forcing me to do more to make up for her lack), and as a general life rule, that's something I try to avoid.

Quick feedback question for you if you have a couple of minutes to share: do you think that I overreacted here?

As we've seen before, I'm not immune to overreacting to social situations. At the same time, I think I did pretty well in analyzing her request for value, testing her for win-win, giving her a chance to be fair, and then avoiding getting dragged down into a (potentially rapport-breaking) back and forth about her credit-withholding.

Do you see any ways this could've been handled better?

The thing that comes to mind here is that you had pre-framed the interaction by offering to help her in any way you could.

So, when you asked her to "thank you", you were, in my mind, trying to social scalp a bit, because she was, in essence, just cashing-in a promise you had made.

A different course of action on your part could have been to first honor your offer, irrespective of her tone, and only then see if she would reciprocate back in some way.

That said, I also agree she was not the smoothest person in the way she asked and in her tone, and she could have been more polite.

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Lucio BuffalmanoAli ScarlettJohn Freeman

Got it, thank you, Bel!

Yes, now that you put it that way, it feels a bit like a social scalp move to me as well (and, this email exchange was well before Lucio's feedback for me that I should curb that behavior).

The issue here though isn't only that she wasn't the smoothest (which can be overlooked), it was that she wasn't the fairest.

If I overlook her credit withholding, I could give her that value, receive no "thanks", and then be stuck in a win-lose, forced to expend more effort trying to get her to acknowledge the value that I gave her.

And, in that position, I'd feel regret, thinking to myself, "Why should I be surprised? She showed no intention of saying 'thank you' beforehand so, now, it shouldn't be a shock that she isn't saying 'thank you' after. She never appreciated this value in the first place and I should've done more to get her to acknowledge what it's worth."

BUT, you're right, most people prefer to say "thank you" after actually getting value (not before). So, maybe my approach was too uncalibrated.

P.S.

You're free to disagree (and I'd be happy to read your feedback on this), but I don't think you can cash in "promises".

You can cash in social capital. But, if someone promises you a favor, that doesn't mean you can take that favor without ever giving anything in return because that still puts you in social debt and creates an unfair, win-lose exchange/relationship (that could frame you as a taker/leech).

So, if you want a win-win and you don't have any social capital, it's more prudent to "cash in" something you've already done for the other side.

Promises are good for facilitating exchanges of value, but I personally feel that they only work as that, facilitators (not replacements for social capital).

Quote from Ali Scarlett on April 12, 2022, 2:04 am

You're free to disagree (and I'd be happy to read your feedback on this), but I don't think you can cash in "promises".

You can cash in social capital. But, if someone promises you a favor, that doesn't mean you can take that favor without ever giving anything in return because that still puts you in social debt and creates an unfair, win-lose exchange/relationship (that could frame you as a taker/leech).

So, if you want a win-win and you don't have any social capital, it's more prudent to "cash in" something you've already done for the other side.

Promises are good for facilitating exchanges of value, but I personally feel that they only work as that, facilitators (not replacements for social capital).

This point is very interesting.

I think that you are right in saying that a promise to do a favor is not something that can be cashed-in without any consideration for social capital balance in a relationship. Meaning, being a good man (or woman) means also knowing when and how (not to) cash-in promises.

However, I also think, on the one hand, that she wasn't asking for something unreasonable or manipulative; and on the other hand, that a promise like yours (which was very cleanly stated, and very broad since you offered to "help in any way you can") would appear to an external observer as being based on you having already received something very valuable from her in the past.

It may not be so, of course, and you may have made this big promise without having received a big favor (or anything) from her in the past. But then the question arises: why make the promise, and enter into a "social contract" with this person one did not know very well? Wouldn't it have been better to just see where the relationship went and not commit to doing something?

Making a promise binds the promiser to his word. The best course of action would be for a promise/offer to be honored, even when it comes at a cost to the promiser and at an (unfair) advantage to the promisee; unless you find out something drastic (like, discovering the other person was trying to harm you or manipulated you into making the promise). Because not honoring promises comes at a high cost.

Then of course, if the other person is a taker or worse, you can always stop all contact after doing what you committed to.

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John Freeman

Quote from Bel on April 12, 2022, 3:08 am

This point is very interesting.

I think that you are right in saying that a promise to do a favor is not something that can be cashed-in without any consideration for social capital balance in a relationship. Meaning, being a good man (or woman) means also knowing when and how (not to) cash-in promises.

However, I also think, on the one hand, that she wasn't asking for something unreasonable or manipulative; and on the other hand, that a promise like yours (which was very cleanly stated, and very broad since you offered to "help in any way you can") would appear to an external observer as being based on you having already received something very valuable from her in the past.

It may not be so, of course, and you may have made this big promise without having received a big favor (or anything) from her in the past. But then the question arises: why make the promise, and enter into a "social contract" with this person one did not know very well? Wouldn't it have been better to just see where the relationship went and not commit to doing something?

Making a promise binds the promiser to his word. The best course of action would be for a promise/offer to be honored, even when it comes at a cost to the promiser and at an (unfair) advantage to the promisee; unless you find out something drastic (like, discovering the other person was trying to harm you or manipulated you into making the promise). Because not honoring promises comes at a high cost.

Then of course, if the other person is a taker or worse, you can always stop all contact after doing what you committed to.

Yes, completely agree with most of what you said here, Bel.

That's why, to be clear, I didn't make a promise. I made an offer.

You'll notice that I didn't say in my posts that I "promised" her anything, I only wanted to open up any opportunities to give her value as a way of being a value-giving person to her business and life.

When you said that she was "cashing in a promise" I responded to that in the "P.S." only to share my views on promises within the social exchange.

Make sense?

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Bel

Of course I do not know the details of your situation and was really speaking in general terms. And I also agree that there is a difference between a promise and an offer, which makes the latter more conditional on the situation in general.

And to be clear on my side as well: I myself had my share of problems with situations like the one you mentioned here, having found myself in a situation like the one you describe (and even worse!) many times. So thank you Ali for sharing your episode and encouraging this discussion.

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Ali Scarlett

She does seem to take without much gratitude, yes.

So there is plenty of "not cool" on her side.

But I'm also going in the same direction as Bel here.

That's one of the reasons why I don't like much, I'm not a big proponent, and I don't advise on this:

Quote from Ali Scarlett on April 12, 2022, 12:15 am

The context is that I had offered to help a former contact of mine in any way I could.

I know that various forms of "how can I help" are a popular tip from many social skills and networking coaches, but I see little advantage to it -especially when it's generic and not executed with good timing-.

Namely:

  • It attracts takers, who see an opportunity to take
  • It leaves the matchers scratching their heads, wondering "why is he being so kind, is there a catch? Should I be wary of asking anything and that he will hold me throw it back on my face later on, or try to set me up for something bigger?"
  • It leaves the more successful and/or power-aware ones feeling like you're pulling power moves, since you self-frame as someone who can help them, and them as someone who may need your help (which is all to be seen).
    Plus, many successful folks don't really need anything from the majority of people, so it feels like imaginary social scalping / empty posturing to them
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Have you read the forum guidelines for effective communication already?
Quote from Ali Scarlett on April 12, 2022, 12:15 am

Quick feedback question for you if you have a couple of minutes to share: do you think that I overreacted here?

To answer your question, I personally wouldn't have disconnected her from anything.

Might have even replied "OK, let me see if I can think of someone" and then leave it there (that's because she was following up on your offer, so you not doing anything can easily be interpreted as a social exchange bluff where you wanted to cash in some small points with the offer, but never intending to follow up. Another reason why I'm not a fan of the various forms of "how can I help you").

But still, no biggies, we do and learn and refine.

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Ali ScarlettJohn Freeman
Have you read the forum guidelines for effective communication already?

In the past, I followed this recommendation from social skills advice to offer my help around. It was portrayed as a way to be a giver. By being a giver, you open yourself to possible win-wins and therefore improve your life and others'.

But now that I'm more aware of social exchanges rules, I understand it's more on a personal basis. I exchange value with people that I trust and who trust me in specific situations. I cannot go around and render services to all the people I met. I don't have enough time and energy to do that. So before accepting to render a service, I think if I'm willing and able to.

I'm all for giving value without getting anything in return (giving a one-off advice, helping an old lady, etc.) and I do it. Plenty of people have done that for me as well. However, I have to be willing to do that. And in the past, many time I helped people who did not deserve my help according to my values. I also wasted my time and energy on people who did not even made anything with what I gave them, which I thought was valuable. It's their right. However I could have used my time and energy better.

It's like when I was using this idea to be a giver and was giving generous tips to all people. What it accomplished was to lower my bank account, that's it. Hahaha.

So now I value more what I have to offer so I choose more carefully who, when and how I help without any expectations in return. Giving well is a subtle art. 

I also used to exclude people too easily. Now I do the opposite, I keep them in my social circle. I think it's better this way and offer potential win-win in the future. I made this mistakes of burning many bridges in time in my life when I did not know anymore who I could trust (too many narcissists in my life confused me, I did not know anymore who was who).

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Lucio Buffalmano
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