By Kathy J. Marshack, Ph.D., P.S.
“I feel like I’m always walking on eggshells around you!”
“I never seem to know what will make you happy!”
“Why can’t you make up your mind?”
If you have ever made these comments or heard them from others, then you know how exasperating this kind of relationship can be, whether it is a personal or business relationship. Never really sure where you stand with the other person leads to this problem. Either you are not being clear or the other person is holding back. And often the reason for the reticence is fear of appearing selfish.
Especially among women there is a fear that if she speaks up about her desires, or dares to put her needs first, she will appear selfish and unloving, or worse yet, aggressive. Not wanting to rock the boat, the woman holds back her own opinion, only later to find that her husband, coworkers, even employees are mad at her. I have had more than one entrepreneurial husband complain that he would love to know what his wife’s opinion was on the subject. Because he doesn’t know where she stands, decisions are unclear and projects are stalled.
A side affect of being “nice” but unclear is that the woman often develops resentments because she is not being recognized. These resentments grow and do not go unnoticed by others. Unfortunately others do not know why she is annoyed, but do feel as if they are walking on eggshells around her. If the spouse, friends, coworkers or employees are not able to cut through the communication problem, they may also begin to hold back for fear of an argument. Then no one knows what anyone wants or what is going on. Obviously this is not good for business relations not to mention the marriage.
The reason this problem is more common for women than men is that women are more concerned about maintaining balance in their relationships whether they work in a family firm or not. Unfortunately most women tire themselves out trying to keep everything in balance, when a few shakeups are in order. For example, in one study the researchers found that career women (including entrepreneurial women) are very reluctant to change things in their work environment if it will upset their spouse, their employees or their customers. Instead these women just do more and more and more to accommodate the wishes of others, growing more tired, annoyed and depressed as time goes by. While balance is a nice goal, it is not always the way to get there. In order to keep creativity alive, in order to grow a business (or a family) there are many changes and corrections that need to be made along the way. Maintaining the status quo may mean stagnation.
The best gift you can give people you care about and work with is to be clear with them about your goals and desires. Even if they don’t agree with you or don’t like your goals, at least they know where you stand. Nothing is hidden. The agenda is on the table and negotiations can proceed. It also may be that your difference of opinion is just what the system needs to be more profitable and productive.
Remember when you were a small child and got a new dress or a new toy or accomplished a new feat like tying your shoes? Weren’t you excited about the acquisition? Didn’t you want to share it with others and watch their faces light up too? Didn’t you feel proud? Those days have long gone and we have been socialized to hide many of our accomplishments and opinions because they may not be acceptable, especially if you are a woman. But it is very important to put your true self out there or you will confuse others and deprive them of your talents.
Here’s another way to look at it. Most people spend their paycheck and if there is anything left other, they may put it into savings or invest it. The problem is that there is usually nothing left over to save each payday. The advice of many financial planners is to put money into savings first and then adapt your budget to live on what’s left. With this latter method you are much more likely to actually save money and create wealth. Just as with saving money, it is equally important to put yourself first (or invest in yourself first). By putting yourself first, by letting people know what you want and who you are, you are investing in yourself in a way that will pay off tremendously. People won’t have to walk on eggshells around you. They will know what your talents are and how to benefit by them. You will surround yourself with people who appreciate you instead of people who need you to appreciate them. This creates an energizing flow between people, just as wealth invested, creates more wealth.