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How to give to a mentor without turning into a chump who's taken advantage of?

Hello all,

I would like input on how to best maneuver this specific situation.

I'm a nurse. I work in the ER.

They recently started putting me in lead roles, to lead different areas.

We have one charge nurse (lead of all the ER) who is a power player. She's high in prestige (experienced and skilled) and also dominant. Last time I was not lead she asked me to get her coffee if I was passing by the coffee shop. I said sure. I was on break, I had more time so I went. Instead of medium, I got her a large and told her it's on me.

Today, I was lead, and she asked if I can get her a coffee, and she'll pay me back when I come back.

I got her a large, and I told her don't worry about it. she invited me out for a cigarette. So after we came back in from our smoke, I told her I learn a lot from her. (me trying to set up a win-win relationship). She was giving some excuses as to why she asked me to get her that coffee. I told her "I'll get you all the coffee you want, you just keep teaching me".

I need your inputs. I analyze this and I think I did a good job and overdelivered her requests. It shows loyalty. It shows I work hard, and I'm generous.

However, I worry she'll be asking me for coffee a lot now. A part of me is a bit worried about not being able to say no without it's reprecussions.

And yet, she is a great example of a powerful person I can learn from. I can establish a win win here, if only I can get her to teach me about power dynamics (how the hell do I do that?) lol.

I appreciate your time in reading this,



Lucio Buffalmano has reacted to this post.
Lucio Buffalmano

Hey John,

Overall, I think you're approaching it with the right mindset.

And even the right attitude, actually.

Just the techniques might get some tweaking (keep on reading).


If someone wants to take advantage of you, that's always possible, you can't always control that.

But if your mind (first), strategies (second), and techniques (third) are in the right place, then it means that the other person might just not be a good person for a win-win exchange.
You have nothing to blame yourself for: you've done all that was possible.

After that come the strategies for self-defense and/or offense, but this is not yet the time for that, and this lady might actually be a great fit for win-win.


What I might have done is to set up the exchange right after you brought the first coffee.

That way, you made sure that it was part of an exchange, rather than you brown-nosing, idolatrizing them, or throwing coffees around for just about anyone.


I would have done it without "direct exchange talk" (it's on PU, or check the dictionary), which is often at risk of sounding calculative, and of making people feel like you're buying them off.

How do you do that?

Subtly, and avoiding the "tit for tat" typical of direct exchange talk.

For example:

You: Here's the coffee.
Her: thank you, how much was it?
You: Oh please, that's nothing, you're already giving me so much, I'm learning a lot from you, so I'm more than happy to give a little something back

Something like that.

Basically, you don't say "I'll give you coffee, you teach me".
That makes you come across as calculative, and like a "social bean-counter" (check it out in the dictionary).

Instead, when you frame your giving as "giving back to something she's already giving", you frame the relationship as her already giving, you rewarding her for that, and you encouraging her to give more in the future.
But the frame is more one of a friendship, of you already being grateful, and like there is an already existing win-win.

The Big Difference

Now she's motivated to teach you more based on an emotional connection, mutual respect, and a guy who "gets it" and is grateful and happy to give back.

Compare that to the guy who says "my coffees for you information", which makes her feel "bought off" for a couple of cheap coffees, and partially exploited (since work-related insights are more valuable than coffee).

Does it make sense?

This is a great example of that "emotional intelligence" that is the foundation of power dynamics and that we talked about here some time ago.

Have you read the forum guidelines for effective communication already?

Thank you Lucio,

The big take I had from your feedback is becoming aware of "direct exchange talk".
Essentially, framing the exchange indirectly is more effective, as it pays heed to the person's emotional radar/needs (i.e. avoid making the person feel like they are being taken advantage of/used). This advice can be executed by saying "I'm learning a lot from you, so this coffee is my thanks" as an example.

I just woke up from my last night shift, and here's the aftermath of my last shift, this was before I received this feedback:

  • I was the lead in "urgent care"
  • I was getting increased feedback from her, as she was telling me things like:
    "in your position, focus more on patient flow and less on doing work for other people"
    "stay on top of getting people re-assessed, and check the board for what needs to come next"
    "X nurse is fast, and Y nurse is okay, Z nurse is a little slow so keep an eye on her"
  • At one point during the night, I went up to her and I asked her
    Me: "did you get your coffee yet?" (Hinting I'm going to buy her one)
    Her: (Pause) "hm..  only if... you're going there anyway" (I recognize she is sensing direct exchange talk here, I just didn't have the words to describe it).
    Me: "you know what? Nevermind. Maybe later"

    Then I waited an hour. I told everyone I'm going for a coffee run, and I got 6 different drinks for people who helped me out that night, and one of them was her. I put her coffee on her table. Then I went out for a smoke and she was there with another staff, sort of flirting. I joined the banter, and I told her I have something for her on her table. But I "didn't just get it for you, I got it for a bunch of people". She said, "John, you're the best!".

  • She asked me to help out in the more advanced areas of the ER, where I'm not trained for yet, so I got to see some live action in resuscitation.

Good learning experience here. If I had to take one nugget as a learning lesson, it is "direct exchange talk" and its repercussions on the tone of a relationship.

Kind regards,



Lucio Buffalmano has reacted to this post.
Lucio Buffalmano

Sounds like this one is going very well, John!

And yes, you got it right, the problem with "direct exchange talk" is that it tends to "crowd out" people's intrinsic motivation to help and do good, and tends to turn the relationship into a colder exchange.

If you make it more flowing and "natural" instead, it improves the relationships and reinforces that win-win.

Matthew Whitewood and JM have reacted to this post.
Matthew WhitewoodJM
Have you read the forum guidelines for effective communication already?
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