Growing a Backbone in Five Easy Steps

Today it’s time to talk about sharks. Let it be known that this post isn’t about how to deal with real sharks. If I knew how to deal with real sharks I wouldn’t be scared to go in the ocean. But that’s another story. I’m talking about sharks in a more figurative sense. You know, the people who suck up your time, try to push you around, always need a favor from you, or just generally make you feel less than wonderful. We all have those people in our lives, whether it’s a friend or a business connection. I will admit that I used to be really bad at dealing with sharks. I get nervous about confrontation, so I’d much rather have them walk all over me and deal with it privately than stand up and say something. But as I’ve been growing my freelance business and meeting a new people in Charlotte, I’ve realized that sharks have to be stopped.

It’s not your fear of confrontation that’s the problem. It’s their behavior. So stop trying to apologize for a shark or explain away their behavior. Learn how to stand up to them (respectfully) and make life more pleasant for yourself. If you’ve got a shark in your life, try using these tips to deal with them:

  • Set boundaries right off the bat: I don’t care whether your shark is a roommate, a boss, or a family member, all sharks are basically the same. They want to suck up your time, make you do things you don’t want to do because it’s convenient for them, and focus on their needs above anyone else’s. While you can’t change this person’s nature, you can stop yourself from being a victim. One way to do this is by setting boundaries right away. If the issue is that this person calls all the time and wants to talk for hours on end, answer the phone and explain that you can’t talk during the work day and that you’d like to schedule a time to connect later on. When that scheduled time rolls around, figure out how long you want to be on the phone ahead of time. When that time is up, tell them you have to go. They may try to keep talking or tell you why you can’t hang up yet, but be firm and explain that you need to hang up and that you can schedule another time to talk later.
  • Be upfront: If your shark is constantly trying to pass off work projects to you, asks you to volunteer for an office committee when you’re stretched to the brink already, or wants you to do favors for them, it’s time to lay down the law. Don’t just keep declining and hope they get the message. Briefly explain exactly why you can’t and be firm about it. Don’t offer lengthy apologies or indicate that you might agree in the future. A firm but polite “no” is enough.
  • Be honest: Sharks prey off of weakness, so if they suspect that you’re wavering and nervous, they’ll become even more aggressive. While it’s difficult, never apologize for standing up for yourself and don’t blame your own issues on your reluctance to do what they want. You can be tactful, but let them know exactly what’s been bothering you. Pretending you just forgot or are busy will allow their negative habits to continue.
  • Know when it’s time to exit: Sometimes it’s possible to get out of a relationship with a shark, but you have to know when to exit. When it’s clear that this person is zapping the energy out of you, it’s time to make a quick escape. You’ll feel much more relaxed and have more energy to spend in other places.
  • Don’t feel guilty: It’s easy to try to justify this person’s behavior, or to blame yourself for not responding well to them. Stop doing that. It’s not you, it’s them. Seriously. Never feel bad about trying to get some space from a shark. You have to protect your time and sanity, and trying to tolerate or bond with this kind of person won’t help you to do that.

We all know that person who is relentless and aggressive. They’re a shark, and they come in many different shapes and sizes. But just because you have to deal with one on a daily basis, doesn’t mean that you have to fall victim. Stand up for yourself and never feel bad for keeping the focus on your needs.

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