Relationships Should Not Be Weird

Blog / Produced by The High Calling
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We like to stand in a favorable position with our bosses, our trash collectors, our friends, even with Jesus. But relationships turn weird when strings get attached. In this article from our series Conflict of Interest, Sam Van Eman cuts those strings with a bit of honesty.

As an ENFP, I’m wired to make people happy. I often leave conversations wondering if anything I said may have perplexed, worried, or offended. I often schedule events when I know everyone can attend. I’m willing to make numerous calls until I’m assured that nobody will be left out. Motivated by insecurity or good will, it doesn’t matter, I can’t sleep at night if somebody somewhere might be out of sorts with me.

The same is true for most people, in fact. According to the Myers & Briggs Foundation, nearly 60% of the population prefers Feeling, a personality function that “like[s] to do whatever will establish or maintain harmony.” says, “As they use and develop their feeling function, feeling types often come to appear caring, warm, and tactful.”

Sounds great. But what happens to us when a conflict of interest enters the relationship? Harmony suffering an imbalance is one thing. The presence of ulterior motives and indebtedness is quite another.

Friendships with Strings Attached

A non-profit colleague of mine raises 50 percent of her income through financial donations. Maryn is literally dependent upon others for her livelihood. After college, she kept in touch regularly with one of her out-of-state friends, who also happened to be a monthly donor. Maryn even visited when she could, traveling far to do so. Yet within months after her friend’s final support check, the relationship began to fade. Except for the occasional “Like” on Facebook, they lost contact. I asked why. Were they truly friends, or more like conditional friends? Maryn had trouble answering the question. Her friend’s willing support after college indicated true friendship, but now Maryn wondered why it had waned, why Maryn had let it wane. All she could see was the conflict of interest.

We want to stand in a favorable position with our bosses, our classmates, our trash collectors, and our friends. We need balance between expectation and delivery, between knowing what others want and satisfying those wants, a relatively simple task under normal circumstances. In Maryn’s case, a “debt” appeared, making the circumstance abnormal. She needed a friend plus. The relationship developed an imbalance that made reaching out seem necessary to remain connected. In effect, she obliged herself to a set of (perceived) strings: “If I don’t visit or call or send another update, I might be forgotten and lose that income.”

Relationships and Sales

Most of us have witnessed a similar conflict of interest in a less awkward way as shoppers. Salespeople are friendly because they have to be. And we buyers know it. We might even be okay with the impersonal smile and third offer of coffee at the car dealership because we have something they want, and this song-and-dance—culturally normative in retail—looks more like a sociological ritual than an interpersonal betrayal. Despite the asterisk on the salesman’s kindness, we understand contractual contexts and allow the perceived conflict of interest to continue. In other words, on the showroom floor, we’re okay with it.

I recently had to update my phone and internet plan. While waiting for customer service, I prepared for a repeat of last time:

“Mr. Van Eman, right now, we’re offering a special on cable.”

“No thanks. I’m not interested in cable.”

“Well, Sam—may I call you Sam?—let me sweeten this offer with six months of free HBO.”

“No, thank you, we’re fine without it.”

“Oh, I see here that by accepting this offer—with the free HBO—you’re also going to get a $100 Gift Card. Now, if you could verify your address … ”

“I’m really sorry, but … ”

God leads all of us into relationships and many of us into sales. But this type of interaction resembles neither. Fortunately, this time a woman named Beth took my call and got it right. She was neither pushy, nor passive. Instead, Beth made improvements, subtracted fluff, and kept my payment where it had been. In the end, I felt heard. She needed my business, I needed her care. We found a happy middle.

Who doesn’t want this kind of balance in every relationship? Bowing, pandering, stroking, excusing, and fearing only add layers of confusion and separation.

Three Tested Tips

I’m not sure how Maryn’s situation resolved, but conflicts of interest complicate relationships in all of our lives from time to time. Here are a few pointers to keep them in check.

Be Observant

Conflicts of interest arise everywhere. Receiving extra care from a neighbor after breaking your leg can create it. So can hungering for the next promotion in the office or fearing that your boyfriend only loves you in certain outfits. They tempt us to believe we owe more than we really do, especially when we value “establishing or maintaining harmony in [our] relationships.” Simply recognizing this inflated perception can free us from abnormal behavior.

Be Honest

Business-development expert John Rosso suggests trying a simple practice of “disarming honesty.” If it feels awkward, he says, then name it: “Hey, I just wanted to say that this is kind of weird for me. We’re friends, but you also give me money, and sometimes that pressures me to act strange, like I need to prove myself to you. Does that make sense?” I’ve tried this one, and it’s quite amazing how a little transparency can lighten the air.

Be Thankful

Likeability isn’t a set-in-stone trait. For those who idolize it, the focus can be adjusted to a healthier position. For those who lack it, the tools are more accessible than we may think. According to Travis Bradberry, author of Emotional Intelligence 2.0,

In a study conducted at UCLA, subjects rated over 500 adjectives based on their perceived significance to likeability. The top-rated adjectives had nothing to do with being gregarious, intelligent, or attractive (innate characteristics). Instead, the top adjectives were sincerity, transparency, and capacity for understanding (another person).

Did you hear that? Sincerity and transparency top the list, like two shots of Dramamine for your next conflict of interest. There is a way to establish and maintain right relationships, and it doesn’t involve imbalance or loss of sleep. Weirdness is temporary, after all.