Be Nice: Bad Business Advice

Today I posted a comment in a facebook group for women in business. Twelve hours later there were over 300 likes and dozens of comments. What prompted my post was a flurry of recent posts in the group by women in some kind of conflict with customers over unpaid bills...mostly because these women had started or completed work for clients without a deposit and when payment was due the customer didn't pay up.

The consternation I feel when I read these posts! Hard work, time and materials given by these well-meaning women then taken advantage of. I know, I know...they need to ask for deposits, progress payments and refuse to deliver work before final payment...yes, that's true. But those customers are very much in the wrong for exploiting these women. My response-post was to give my own example of getting it right...

A potential customer contacted me about a custom-made item; she was full of praise for my product and it was very flattering to hear what "global potential" my product has. And, with slow sales lately, it was exciting to think I might have a customer prepared to pay twice the normal price for a customized version - that was the figure I quoted her when she asked, and she happily accepted it. I explained what she needed to provide for the customization process to start and laid-out three payments she would need to make. No response.

In my post to the group, I wrote..."I have heard nothing else from her. This is absolutely fine. She is well within her rights to change her mind. I won't be chasing her for fear of her disapproval of my fees, I won't start work in order to chase her custom. I haven't lost anything. I'm sharing this so you know it's okay to ask for money. It's okay to ask for it before starting work. It's ok for a customer to decline your fees. It's ok to 'lose' a potential customer. I'm not a bad person, she's not a bad person; not every door you open leads to a result."

And the response was amazing. So many likes, so many women responded saying they "needed to hear this". Now, I am pretty fine with asking for payment but, I remember what it feels like not to be. I was trained, like most girls, to 'be nice' and share and not be greedy. The trouble is, these ideas were bullshit. Now, I am all for genuinely being nice, genuinely sharing and genuinely avoiding greed but, this is not what we were taught.

Genuine niceness is a result of understanding the needs of others. But this is not what our mothers were really coaching us to do...they wanted our quick and unquestioning submission to rules but, instead of saying that (because it's indefensible when you put it like that), they labeled submission as "niceness" and made it into a virtue by giving their smiling approval for submission and their punishing disapproval for being 'difficult'.

Genuine sharing is the result of the free choice to give, or not give. But this is not what we were coached to do. We were given things of our own (books and toys and clothes) and simultaneously told they were not really our own; we had to share them. This usually happened when a sibling took something belonging to us, we protested, the sibling protested and, instead of protecting our ownership rights, our parents insisted we 'share' - which was really code for, "give-up your rights because I can't manage the conflict here." We were taught that other people are more important than us and we were praised for acting that way.

 

Be Nice: Bad Business Advice

 

Genuinely avoiding greed comes from understanding fairness and feeling like your needs will be met; I don't need to hoard stuff because there's enough to go around and everyone matters, not just me. But this is not what we were coached for either. What usually happened during childhood was, when we wanted something, we simply asked for something, quite innocently...perhaps it was something our parents couldn't provide or didn't want to provide but, instead of explaining this, it was quicker and easier to use emotive tactics, to condemn us and make us feel ashamed of wanting anything in the first place.

And so, we grow up thinking that having our own perspective is bad but, falling into line is virtuous, that protecting ourselves is somehow the equivalent of taking from others and that wanting something for ourselves is greedy and shameful. The qualities of niceness, sharing and self-sacrifice are considered particularly feminine which is a problem when they are, in fact, dysfunctional martyrdom in disguise - a way of grooming us to be more easy to exploit. Of course others like these qualities in us...a willing slave is worth twice that of a malcontent...and three times the value of a clear-thinking, independent woman.

When some women in business eagerly start work without a deposit or deliver work without payment they are living these false virtues. The alternative is to assert yourself and risk disapproval and rejection...someone might think we're greedy and not nice, that we think we're more important than them! And because we can't cope with the thought of their disapproval we act against our own interests. The solution starts with understanding that the problem is not the disapproval of others, the problem is that squirming feeling inside and that we are in the habit of resolving that feeling by offering ourselves on a platter, in return for the smiling approval of the other person. When we can resolve that squirm by ourselves we no longer need the other person to resolve it for us. When we can challenge the old training that produces that squirm we can act with true fairness toward ourselves and others. When we understand the tactics used against us long ago and can now say, "I matter too", we will stop the bitter conflict that happens after we agree to our own exploitation.

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