My Toxic Friends

Is someone in your social network dragging you down? Here's how to protect yourself from poisonous people.

Protect Yourself from Pushy People

Turn the tables on pushy people by controlling the agenda.

Dealing with pushy people can be unpleasant. One solution is to try to avoid them. However, you may not always be able to do this, especially when they are your friends or people with their foot in the door who pretend to be doing you a favor by selling you a product.

The telemarketer wants to sell you insurance, and that dinner-time call catches you off guard.  A colleague nudges you to do the project he’s put off.  An automobile sales person pitches and presses you to buy granny’s old pickup truck even though you visibly want to get off the lot.  What do these people have in common?  They have agendas. Their agenda gives them an incentive to push you into complying.

An agenda is a list of things to consider or to do.  It may range from instinctive and intuitive to a professionally developed sales pitch.  Some agendas are hidden.  A colleague wants you to think badly of another co-worker to cover up his badmouthing you to that person. Perhaps you won’t speak to her and won’t discover the subterfuge.

It’s hard to imagine agenda-free interactions.  They are part of practically every human interaction. Most are normal. Some will put you into an unwanted situation, and so are useful to recognize and knowledgeably address.

If you too often capitulate to other people's agendas that you sense are wrong for you, you are likely procrastinating on developing and using assertive skills. By understanding where you can control an agenda, and then doing what you know, you are less likely to procrastinate on facing uncomfortable personal situations that involve standing up for your rights with pushy people.  

Recognizing Agendas

Agendas are an inevitable part of our communications, but paradoxically may not be seen. Recognizing and addressing them is a common missed step in self-development. In taking this step, it may be useful for you to start with recognizing your key agendas.

Knowing how to recognize and read agendas may be a surprisingly simple way to boost your effectiveness, gain confidence, and assert control over your time and life. With a bit of reflection, you can articulate many of your agendas. You try to convince your friend that the baseball team you favor is the best.   You want your lover to feel receptive, so you speak soft words.

Your life goals are represented by agendas. What are your main life agendas? How arduously do you pursue them?  How might asserting positive agendas benefit your community? By posing and then answering these three questions, you can boost your enlightened self-awareness and sharpen your focus on your most meaningful agendas.

Developing agenda-based knowledge about your primary agendas opens opportunities to change or modify ones that don’t work so well for you, such as an agenda of avoiding discomfort that leads to procrastination.  You might create a responsibility agenda where you strive for higher levels of personal effectiveness.  If you are lonely and you hide from others, you may put time and effort into a friendship building agenda.

In developing your agenda-recognitions skills, tracking political talk show hosts gives you another angle for recognizing and understanding agendas.You'll often find hosts who act as though their opinions were facts.  There will be omissions. Look for what is missing that is significant.

Overgeneralizations can tip you off to a host's agenda. Listen for “we're the good guys” verse” they're the bad guys” assertions. The host is against the 'bad guys." Are they really the bad guys or do they have a different agenda?  

Overgeneralizations distort realities and point to biases.

Here are two questions that can guide your thinking about any agenda.  “If I bought into this agenda, where would this lead?” Here is another: “If I looked for exceptions, would the picture I have of this agenda, change?”  Your answers to these questions can lead to clarity about the agenda.

Your preparation in agenda recognition can help you recognize and deal with agenda-driven situations where you feel pushed in a direction that you are not comfortable following. Let's turn to that next.

Controlling the Agenda

Whoever controls the agenda shapes the outcome.  However, other people's agendas may first be obscure to you, but not to the person with an agenda to press. 

The person who pushes and presses may know the desired outcome and the process of getting there. You may have to figure it out along the way.  This may be especially challenging where you can’t easily or readily walk away because you have a stake in the process.

As an example of having a stake in a process, let’s look at a major issue, a home purchase. You have a real estate broker who was recommended by a friend. You have a criteria and a budget. You’ve explored possible neighborhoods. Since this is a big investment, your agenda is to explore a broad range of possible properties. When you find one that is right for you, you plan to take steps to procure it.

Your broker wants to control the agenda and to make a quick sale. She wants to quickly narrow your choices, point out the benefits for each property, and try to close the deal on one. She pushes for an answer and presses more with the idea that if you don’t buy now, someone else will scoop up the property. That pressuring agenda is not in your interest. If you are prepared to walk away from a hurried deal, you remain in the driver’s seat.

Once you see the broker’s agenda, remind yourself that you hold the trump cards. You have good credit, a down payment, and are not in a hurry to settle on a home. In a down market, you are uniquely situated to get a great value and to know one when you see it.

Knowing where you stand on important issues, and where you control the agenda, simplifies dealing with agenda-driven people whose pushiness can put you off but where you may ordinarily capitulate to avoid causing bad feelings.

Here is my take on being overly empathic toward others who try to force their agendas onto you. If someone chooses to push you into an agenda that you don’t value, and you refuse, and that person doesn’t like the result, tough!

Here's my take on reciprocity and agendas. If you have a give-and take relationship, you may give ground on agendas where you can control the agenda. Where you can count on your friend giving ground at another time, you have a relationship that includes reciprocity.

Here's my take on dealing with coercive and manipulative people, where you control the agenda (you hold the pursestrings or a keystone factor). There is rarely an advantage in relinquishing control over an agenda with someone who extorts, exploits, and manipulates. By holding your ground, it is likely that the pushy individual wil move on to target someone new. That would be an advantage for you. You'll have one less hassle. 

For dealing with complicated forms of procrastination where you back off when uncomfortable, see The Procrastination Workbook. You'll find many change tools you can use right away.

Combatting procrastination, Part 1 of a free 8 part multimedia presentation is available at Combatting Procrastination Part 1. Part 2 is available at: Combatting Procrastination Part 2

Dr. Bill Knaus

My Toxic Friends