Conversation Clutter: The Hidden Agenda

July 9, 2011

It seemed like a kind gesture.  My colleague Pamela (not her real name) suggested I post fliers marketing my business in the numerous laundry rooms at her condominium.  I had just written an article about the importance of clearing out storage units.  Her condo office had asked that everyone clear out theirs.  It felt synchronous.  Still I was surprised.  I live in a condominium, too.  My condo association doesn’t allow anyone to post fliers on their laundry room bulletin boards.  Why would hers? 

Before Pamela gave me her laundry room key, which she said would open all the other laundry rooms throughout her condominium, she wanted to ask me a question.  Both of us sat down.  Having my full attention, she told me she had landed a contract with a big company and needed help.  Would I assist her? 

When Your Gut Says “No!” but You Still Say “Yes”

My gut kicked in.  It immediately said “No!” but feeling cornered and slightly vulnerable, I said yes.  She had just done me a favor—extending an invitation to post fliers in her condo’s laundry rooms.  Did I owe her something? 

Accepting the job meant giving up a day of my time, if you include the additional preparation, to help her out.  That one day would cause me to expend precious energy and time away from the work I want and need to do for myself.  She said she would pay me and we agreed on a price.  As a solo entrepreneur, I’ll admit the money enticed me.  My gut, however, kept saying “No!” loud and clear.

Once the agreement was made, Pamela showed me her laundry room and the bulletin board where I posted my first flier.  I mentioned my surprise at being able to do this, since my condo’s policy forbid it.  Unresponsive to my comment, she left for another appointment, and I was left to find the other laundry rooms on my own.  Before stepping out, she suggested I go to the condo office to inform them of my intentions.  Perhaps they could help.

Discovering the Truth

Feeling somewhat abandoned and lost in her condo neighborhood I started looking for the other laundry rooms.  The key didn’t work in the first one, so I hunted for the next.  When the key didn’t open the second one, I thought, “This isn’t working.  I will go to the condo office and ask them if each laundry room has its own key.”

When I entered the condo office I was greeted with immediate disdain.  The office manager gave me a look that would have scared even puppies and bunnies.  I got my answer quickly.  “Absolutely, without question, if you do not live here, you cannot solicit here!  We will take down any fliers you have put up.”

“Okay.  Okay.  I will take down the one I put up.”  I beat it out of the office, removed the one flier I posted, slipped Pamela’s key through her mail slot and headed home.  The time spent preparing the fliers, driving to and from Pamela’s and all the shenanigans in between added up to close to three hours.

Was There a Hidden Agenda?

Once home I started thinking about what happened.  Why didn’t Pamela know her condo’s policy?  She’s been living there for years.  What a waste of my time.  And I accepted a job I didn’t want.  Was her invitation to post fliers simply a foil for a hidden agenda?  Perhaps she knew if she offered me the job on the phone, I would have said “No.”  By seeing me face-to-face in her condo, on her territory, she had a better chance of describing the job and getting me to say “Yes,” especially after inviting me to post fliers at her condo.

I have a hunch this was her unconscious intention.  This kind of interaction, dear reader, is what often happens when we’ve agreed to do something we don’t want to do and know we should have declined.  Someone wants us to say “Yes,” and knows if given our druthers we would say “No.”  That person then sets up the conversation in such a way that it makes it difficult to say “No.”  The conversation begins about something else.  For me, it was posting my fliers in her condo’s laundry rooms. 

Once that other person has your full attention, then the conversation shifts to the true agenda—the hidden agenda.  If she knows you well enough to know your vulnerabilities, she will incorporate them into whatever offer or ultimatum is presented.  For me it was the offer of money.  Pamela’s monetary offer seemed attractive at first, but when I factored in the number of hours and amount of energy I would expend, the payback wasn’t worth it.

The Final Analysis

A day later I called Pamela.  I left a message to thank her and to let her know I wouldn’t be able to accept her offer.  I had another commitment—one that was true to me and the work I was meant to do.  What a relief it was to cut the threads of this heartless acceptance and move forward. 

In the end I was grateful.  I had another opportunity to define how to spend my time.  My self-worth was sharpened in the process.  I discerned what felt right for me and then took action to preserve it.  The “Me of the Past” would have been complimented by Pamela’s offer and remained unaware that I had been suckered into someone else’s hidden agenda.  The “Me of the Present” now listens to her inner voice and knows its truth.

Bev Hitchins © 2011

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