There is a reason not to do anything for free. Things given for free are easily discarded and not appreciated. It is a principle we see largely applied in children education, when they are asked to do their bed, walk the dog or do some house chore to get something they want. A form of “payment” makes people aware of what they really want and the effort they are willing to put in.
Business wise, if we’re talking sales or closing a deal, it’s obvious why we have to think this way: the negotiation should end with a win-win, otherwise it’s bad business. Even if you’re on the winning side of a win-lose transaction, that’s still bad business, because on the long run you will be losing that customer and your reputation. You should always aim for a win-win.
This transactional approach can be applied in any aspect of our life not necessarily in contracting. That sounds so mercantile! Well it may sound, but it isn’t, because what you get out of a situation is not always something material. The response to this key question can take many shapes and we’re not always aware of the motivation driving us, until we ask this question. For example:
- You accept to deliver a free presentation (which you know you’re good at) – what’s in it for me? – exposure, visibility, future business, future employment, increased self-esteem, respect
- You accept to go out for a drink with someone / some people – what’s in it for me? – disconnect from daily activity, good company, laughter, connecting with someone, enjoying life
- You decide to voluntarily improve an asset (a template, an object, a process) – what’s in it for me? – professional satisfaction, easing your life / work further, improving your skill, creating something you may monetize in the future.
Even when we make a donation we apply this transactional approach, but try to fool ourselves that we don’t. The moment you think it will bring you good karma or wash away the sins you’ve gathered in front of some deity or do so by following some religious guidelines which you think will keep you safe (instead of taking ownership of your life), you are resorting to a transaction.
The win part is easy to follow. To improve your life, you need to ask this question in lose-win situations (when you’re at the losing tip of the balance):
- You are being asked to deliver unpaid overtime – what’s in it for me? – exhaustion, not spending your private time with familly or significant over (btw, did I tell you they will not be there forever?), skipping a proper dinner, not taking for a walk your furry friend on time.
- You get into a toxic relation – what’s in it for me? – losing your sleep, your smile, spending all your emotional resources, giving up on yourself.
- You help someone that makes no effort to self-help – what’s in it for me? – you spend your time, resources, sleep, health.
Need I add these are the cases where you should learn to say “No”? Of course, you may argue you are getting something in return, but take a step back and look at the balance.
In some of the above cases you may answer: I’m doing it for the team, I’m doing it for others, I’m doing it to get noticed – so you are expecting something in return that may never arrive, because there is no real causality between the action you are taking and the results you expect. However let me congratulate you, as you just found a very good recipe for depression. But because this is the way a lot of people react, recognition is very important.
You may also answer to lose-lose or lose-win situations, by saying: I might lose my job if I don’t, I might lose that promotion if I don’t, I will be perceived as unworthy if I don’t, my wifey / hubby will not appreciate me, I will not get that salary raise. It means you’re letting fear drive you. Don’t. Fear is a terrible driver, it’s expert in collisions and the insurance policy is really high for this kind of driver.
Take a step back and look at some of the things you will be doing today, then ask yourself: what’s in it for me?