Louisa was annoyed and disheartened because her friends didn’t “trust” her to work for them. Louisa had been a professional musician, played at weddings for 10 years but, her best friend wouldn’t take any input from her about music for the friend’s wedding. Louisa has a new business making websites but, one friend, struggling to use her website, would take none of Louisa’s advice, another friend had to be begged to allow Louisa to connect an email service and another went and paid someone to fix their website despite Louisa offering to do it for free. “I just don’t get it” she said.
It's not so much about trust...what we have here is an ‘identity’ issue. Identity is a shorthand version of who you are. Humans are very complex and you can’t know all the history, changing thoughts, emotions, expectations, fears, abilities, and ambitions of another person. So, how do you work with that? We need to cooperate for success; cooperation requires a shared set of expectations and the ability to predict each other’s behaviour so we can plan and act accordingly. Identity is a way of condensing the whole person into a simpler version...someone you can understand and interact with effectively and efficiently. Personal identities are signified by our names; I know who Louisa is versus Isabelle versus Cherie. And personal identities fall into categories; friend, parent, politician, neighbor, nurse, plumber, etc…
It may seem a bad thing to simplify a person but, it’s the only way we can operate efficiently; dealing with the whole woman behind the counter at the shoe shop is a nice idea but you don’t have time (and neither does she) to get to know ‘the whole her’ before choosing your shoes. Generic categories of identity are efficient because they come with a set of rules for engagement that both parties understand. The shop assistant knows that, while you both see her as a shop-assistant she can touch your feet but, this is not okay if you meet the same woman at a BBQ. We even do this with ourselves; women in particular often complain about having to juggle multiple identities - mother, lover, worker, friend and, it's just as hard to understand yourself as multifaceted as it is to understand others in all their complexity. We naturally simplify because it's easier.
'Multifaceted Woman' - Danny O'Connor
Think you’re not affected by this? Did you ever have that jarring experience as a child of seeing your teacher outside of school??? If you saw them with a spouse it was even more freaky! How about parents and sex? Most people shudder at the idea because parents have an identity that doesn’t include sexiness. Or, have you ever been especially outraged when a policeman is caught doing something wrong? It’s because you don’t see them as a person, equally capable of wrong-doing as the average person, they have special obligations because of their job identity.
The downside of this identity shorthand is that we can treat people without consideration for their complexity, variety, and potential. Louisa was experiencing this; she had the ‘friend’ identity among her friends and this doesn’t include a professional skill set. This meant she wouldn’t be seen as an option for providing professional services which seems like a shame. However, the upside to this identity is that you are given more leeway as a friend, free support, sympathy, affection, and understanding.
Couldn’t her friends see her as both? Identities are often mutually exclusive - one has rules that contradict another; a friend is given leeway when running late, a contractor is not...a friend is forgiven for their contradictions, a contractor’s mistakes must be paid for. These rules form the boundaries between people. While the standards for friendship are more flexible, friendship is typically considered more valuable. By keeping Lousia in the friend box, Louisa’s friends may deprive her of work but they protect the friendship from the risk of being damaged by the strict requirements of a contractor.
When we’re dealing with complex people in complex situations like friendship or business relationships, we need rules to make sure everyone knows how they should behave and what they can expect. Importantly, this reduces the risk of conflict, disappointment, and loss. Remember, those rules keep you safe and increase the chance of success for everyone involved.
When the world is so complicated, the simple gift of friendship is within all of our hands.