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Your Inner Circle: Advocates or Subtle Adversaries?

Life changes are a critical time for supportive relationships.

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Everyone has defining moments in their career and life where they must make a change. These transitions call for great inner courage and determination. But oftentimes that alone is not enough.

Having strong advocates who are in your corner, versus “covert adversaries,” can mean the difference between wild success and a mediocre outcome. The good news is you’re in control of all of this—and can decide who you let in the gate.

Maybe you’re engaged in a new job search, pending promotion, or raise. Perhaps you're taking a leap of faith into entrepreneurship, a new career, or even a new relationship. Regardless of the shift, surrounding yourself with those who truly want to tip the scales in your favor is critical. Conversely, naysayers who subtly or not so subtly project their fears or jealousies can sap your energy away from the dreams you can otherwise see so vividly.

Taking a Closer Look

When you primarily rely on your own vision and tenacity—you are already poised for success. Inner strength is something you can continually work on and build on. Your resilience can be unstoppable. But the danger of relying solely on this is the occasional negative self-talk that naturally arises for any mortal being. That’s when your supportive allies will validate your positive outlook and goals from their unique, credible experiences.

Before deciphering the proverbial “friend from foe,” let’s consider who some of your advocates might be in the broadest sense. Remember that working with outside professionals will keep you insulated from the subjective inner circle issues that typically arise with friends, family, and colleagues, who may be well-meaning. With paid industry mentors or consultants, you’re less likely to experience adversarial, highly-opinionated, or emotionally-draining situations.

  • Formal mentors (e.g., through a networking program)
  • Informal mentors (people from work or those you've met through networking)
  • Friends, colleagues, and relatives
  • Industry consultants (skilled in your field of endeavor)
  • Professionals serving your industry (e.g., attorneys, CPAs)
  • Industry group professionals
  • Therapists or life coaches
  • Volunteer groups (e.g., SCORE)

There are so many resources available, but quality is much more important than quantity. With the right mindset, you can avoid career crushers and surround yourself with people who encourage you to take risks. (Something as simple as being happy in your job requires a support system you can count on, too.)

Here are some signs to look for in vetting advocates from subtle adversaries:

Signs of an Advocate

1. Their very nature is positive; they’re not judgmental.

2. You’re doing most of the talking; they’re good listeners.

3. They encourage you to take risks but also will show you all sides of a decision.

4. When you need them the most, they find a way to be available.

5. They help you take emotion out of the equation.

6. Your ideas and thoughts garner their respect.

7. They’re confident in their own success; envy is not in their DNA.

8. They speak highly of other successful people when talking to you.

9. You generally look forward to your next conversation with them.

10. After being around them, you feel happier and more self-confident.

11. They don’t take themselves too seriously and have a healthy sense of humor.

12. There’s a feeling of trust, amplified by mutual strong eye contact and positive body language.

Most often, it’s your “inner influencers,” where a little awareness can avert a lot of stress. This is where your emotional intelligence will kick into high gear. Taking what is said with a grain of salt is helpful, as well as looking at the overall feedback you get from many, versus one or two.

Here are some red flags of the underground adversary:

Signs of a Subtle Adversary

1. They’re in an overly protective mode, and you’re being encouraged to stick with the status quo.

2. Worry and fear define their argument and drive their own decisions (not yours).

3. They feel so close to your success that your biggest achievements make them more distant and seemingly jealous.

4. It seems they’re more upbeat when you’re struggling.

5. Their interest and time availability is inconsistent and intermittent, suggesting passive-aggressive behavior.

6. Their confidence level in you is not as high as yours (or at least that’s the appearance), and they may put you down jokingly.

7. They seem resentful of the success of others.

8. When they do listen, they ask you questions that seem nosy or make you uncomfortable, unwittingly or not.

9. At times you feel uneasy about sharing personal information, as there is a gut feeling of mistrust.

10. You sometimes feel worse about yourself after being around them.

11. Sarcasm feels like it is on overdrive.

12. Body language says they’re shutting you out; they are not 100 percent engaged.

A Final Word

Keep in mind the following when you consider the "Subtle Adversary":

1. No friend is going to display these traits on a regular basis (or you'd never speak with them again!). These events will crop up only often enough to doubt yourself—thus the term "subtle."

2. You may only experience one or two of the actions.

3. Allow forgiveness if your inner circle falls prey to some of the less egregious behaviors, such as worrying on your behalf.

4. Be ready to confront the person if they cross the line, but you value the relationship. It will be cathartic for you to set this boundary and may just help them correct the behavior.

During major transitions, you may feel vulnerable to the ideas and opinions of others. This is all the more reason to be around the most positive, supportive people possible—who are in the know and can help you realize your greatest dreams.

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