A reader of my “At Work” column wrote to me for advice. Here is her dilemma.
“I am not an assertive person, but I always wanted to create and run a business. I told a close friend about my idea; she liked it and wanted to do it with me. I don’t know how it came to this, but two other friends liked the idea and also wanted to be part of it, so now we have four partners.
“I do almost all of the work. The first friend participates once a week, and only very little. The other two are not active but have good business connections, which I have not used yet. We make such a small amount each month that it really does not qualify as a business, but we still split it four ways. It’s not even enough money to pay for a meal in a restaurant.
“I am busy with my children and family, as my husband is always working. I value my friends, so I don’t know how to get out of this business situation. I also don’t like and am not good at communicating anything negative. I have always preferred letting things go by keeping quiet. I want to keep things positive. Is there a way to change this situation without alienating my friends?”
What to do: Here’s the painful truth. You are in an unfortunate situation because you chose to remain passive instead of dealing with reality and taking personal responsibility for your choices. It may initially seem easier to walk away and ignore difficult conversations, but as you now see, you sacrificed choosing what would have made you happy by acquiescing to your friends’ unreasonable requests.
Some may like a “yes-person,” but no one respects one. Your friends may enjoy being able to control you without much effort and avoid challenging and reasonable discussions, but it sounds like they may not be the type of friends anyone would or should want.
Your first issue to address is your fear of and interpretation of difficult conversations and confrontation. This is not a positive character trait for someone who wants to own and run a business. You apparently accept others who stand their ground, but you do not do the same for yourself.
Assertive behavior is not negative the way aggressive behavior is. To be assertive is the ability to verbally defend yourself, your beliefs, your wishes, your goals and your motivations. Just because you told your business idea to your friends, and just because they wanted to be part of it, doesn’t mean you had to accept their requests or demands.
It sounds like you think saying no is confrontational. To the contrary, it is a person’s right to say no to any situation he or she dislikes. By saying yes instead, you have turned over control of your life to others. And friends who expect that behavior from you are not the type of friends a person would or should want.
You may not recognize your friendships as toxic until you develop self-confidence and learn to successfully have difficult conversations. Sacrificing your happiness for others without reason is not a positive character trait.
Find a therapy group focused on assertiveness training, or search for a counselor with whom you can comfortably and openly discuss your feelings and behavior. This type of emotional growth will not happen overnight, but your time spent learning how to be assertive will help in every aspect of life.
As you feel more confident engaging in honest communication, you will be able to discuss the business situation you have created. If work is not split fairly, you may need to eliminate that particular friend(s) from your business. Remember, friends don’t use friends.
If explaining your position to them ends the friendships, you may see they were not true friends at all. Until you feel strong enough to stand by your decisions, protect any future business ideas by keeping them to yourself until you are in the process of implementing them. As you grow strong and independent, you will probably attract the type of friends who like you for who you are and not because you are easily controlled.