Wednesday, 10 April 2013
Dealing with the devious
I've had my share of run-ins with these types over the years. People who only want to know you when they need something, who pretend to be your friend while laughing about you behind your back, or who use your honesty or lack of social smarts to screw you over. People who can't be and shouldn't be trusted.
But how can you tell? And if you do suspect you need to tread carefully around someone, what do you do?
Here are a couple of trends I've noticed:
Do you become unimportant if you cease to be useful? If you're the one with the car who gives your carless crew lifts, do you suddenly stop getting invites if your car's off the road? If you're the clever one who helps others with their homework, do your friends drop you like a stone when class breaks up? Similarly, if you mention needing money to cover petrol costs or the time you're spending tutoring, do they suddenly find other options?
Part of life is helping other people, but if those favours seem to be suspiciously one-way it might be time to re-evaluate the relationship.
Do they take a sudden, intense interest in some aspect of your life? Part of getting to know people is exchanging information, but it should be just that: an exchange, on equal terms. If someone, especially someone you don't know particularly well, suddenly wants to know all about your research, your relationship, or what you do at work, they may not so much have become suddenly very friendly as be tooling up to steal your project, partner or job.
Do they give you the impression they're mentally making notes? I remember one subject in particular who was obvious about this. Every so often, apparently at random, he'd raise his eyebrows, make a surprised or pleased noise, or generally react to something only he was aware of. He didn't quite rub his hands together and break into an evil laugh, but he came close sometimes. There was always this sensation that he was making a mental record of everything I said or did so he could use it later, either against me or to further his own machiavellian schemes.
So, what can you do about it?
Be aware of who's doing (and saying) what: This is harder than it sounds. It sounds really petty to keep a tally of how many lifts you've given Bob versus what Bob's done for you in return, but be aware of patterns. If your memory's as ropey as mine that might mean keeping a private list or a diary. That way you'll be able to look back and realise 'hey, for the last 17 weeks I've given Bob a lift, but I still haven't got that fuel money/beer/pizza/pony he promised me'. Unless you pay attention to it, it can be easy to get so caught up in the daily struggle to keep your caboose in order that you don't realise how uneven the relationship's become.
Don't show your full hand: When you're dealing with the information-miner and the note-taker, starve them of information. For instance, I was once working on two different projects, each with a different person, and these two other people didn't get on. It soon became apparent anything I said about one project or person to the other would be used to stir shit, so I just said nothing. Everything was 'great', both projects were 'lovely', progress was 'fine' and life was 'all good'. Starved of ammunition, things were frosty but uneventful until I was able to make my escape.
And sometimes that's the best you can hope for. You just can't get on with everybody, because some people don't want to be got on with, or aren't worth getting on with. But you can keep your cards close to your chest, and minimise the damage they can cause.