You take something expensive to a repair shop; they give you a price and tell you to come back in three months. You hear they are the best to do what they do, so you figure it’s worth the wait. They require a 30% down payment to start the work as a good faith payment. Fast forward three months, and they aren’t done yet. Fast forward another month, and they aren’t done yet. When you finally approach them firmly to say you need everything back, they show you that it’s in pieces and is not done yet. They say they can give you back the pieces, but they will have to keep your 30%.
As typical, your anger goes through the roof, but since you’ve read about managing anger, you calm yourself down to figure out the right decision first. You tell them that if they can’t give you everything back or the monetary value, you’ll have to pursue further ‘action.’ They say go ahead, that they have no money or assets. Friends tell you that you have to be firm and keep going back to them, that if it were them, they’d be able to make them do what they are supposed to do.
When we are taken advantage of, our first thoughts are often to somehow get back at them and get back whatever it is they took from us. The thing is that is the ‘advantage’ – when someone takes advantage of us, they have the upper hand. We’ve given them something, given them (or lost) the advantage, in our scenario, with the supposed promise of something in return.
It could be outright fraud or theft to an extent, but if we think about it, this happens everywhere, from businesses to panhandlers, to salespeople, to relationships. We’re all negotiating to try and get whatever we want out of the interaction. This may sound ‘cold,’ but of course, it’s not; it can be full of feelings, both good and bad.
In relationships, for example, someone could want our money, our body, and our time and give little to nothing in return, selling us on the promise of something eventually in the future.
The thing is, we live in a world where we have to sometimes ensure that we have the advantage and not the other way around. It all depends on what is at stake and what risk we are willing to take. If we think of it as a business transaction, both sides want to get the most advantage as possible. In a more personal environment, both sides just don’t want to be screwed over.
In either case, however, it’s up to us to manage what it is we give and expect in return. Would we, for example, give a random stranger off the street a large sum of money and something we own of value and tell them to give it back to us in three months?
Of course, we wouldn’t do that; then why are we going to trust a random repair shop? We may not normally think of this in terms or risks, but we are taking risks every time we give away our advantage.
The most ideal situation is that the terms are somewhat even. If we have to give something, they have to give us something in return. Many business transactions are this way – a service gets performed, and money gets rendered in exchange. That way, the business performing the service can withhold their results/work, and the client getting the service isn’t paying until the service is provided.
Even relationships should be operating on some form of even terms, some form of ‘mutual satisfaction.’ The problem with relationships is that the terms are intangible; they can never really be measured. Also, with relationships, there’s affection that doesn’t really apply or work when constantly trying to balance out terms. However, no matter the situation, communicating before any sort of exchange is important. This goes for all significant ‘transactions,’ business or personal.
Trust but Verify
There comes a time, when even terms aren’t possible for some reason. In business, typically, that means there’s some form of leverage. They have what we want so badly that we’re willing to take a risk and give them the advantage. Ideally, this is when some form of ‘insurance’ comes into play so we can let the insurance companies do the dirty work.
Unfortunately, in more personal situations, there isn’t any insurance for crappy encounters. So instead, we have to ‘verify’ a bit before we make an exchange. We have to understand more about the service or person we’re dealing with. Otherwise, we have to treat them no differently than a random stranger off the street.
If we wouldn’t give a random stranger money to hold, then we shouldn’t give that money to a random business owner who we know nothing about either. Having a business definitely doesn’t make someone more trustworthy; in fact, some could argue it’s the opposite. The bottom line is, even in a relationship, we need to have a decent idea of who we are dealing with if we are willing to give them the advantage and take that risk.
This final concept is polarizing, and that is, we have to take responsibility for being ripped off or taken advantage of. It doesn’t mean the other person wasn’t in the wrong. It means that we *knowingly* gave someone else the advantage by entrusting money, time, or whatever else to them. This is a hard pill to swallow.
This doesn’t infer we shouldn’t trust others; just that when we trust others, we have to acknowledge the risk of getting screwed over. And when we get screwed over, we have to acknowledge that was part of the deal. That’s why it was a ‘risk’ in the first place. If we were able to always get everything back, it wouldn’t be a risk, and no one would ever have ‘the advantage.’
It’s ok to try to get things back and even things up. We just need to acknowledge that ‘getting even’ and trying to retrieve something we’ve lost to an advantage won’t often go well. Imagine a situation where someone betrayed our trust in a non-monetary way. It’s like a cracked egg. No matter how hard we try, we can never get the egg back to the way it was originally. It’s not usually worthwhile to chase ‘getting even’ because often times it simply isn’t possible.
Being taken advantage of sucks, so ideally, we must ensure that every exchange is ‘mutually beneficial’ at all times to some extent. If there are reasons that we want to allow someone to have the advantage, that’s definitely ok; as long as we’re doing it because the risk, situation or person is worth it no matter what happens.