I read an excellent article last week and it’s got me thinking. Ruth Whippman’s piece in The New York Times entitled “Everything is for Sale Now. Even Us.” In it, she talks about how the self-promotion required in the new economy has set up awkward interactions with our colleagues and friends. Someone is always asking for something; and how we respond is often used as a measure of the strength or value of our relationships. This can lead to many uncomfortable conversations…and you know how I love to talk about uncomfortable conversations!

Ok, back up. What am I talking about? Who is selling themselves?

Well…do any of these ring true for you or your friends…?

You’re part of the gig economy: Is someone you know a freelance writer, editor, programmer, or designer. It would be weird if none of your social circle was. By 2027, economists are predicting that gig jobs will be half of the economy. That means someone is always asking for work, or a referral, or a recommendation.

You have a side hustle. Maybe you still work in traditional jobs, but are you or someone you know finding your passion with a side hustle? Selling jewelry, or playing in a band, or tutoring math in the evenings. That requires lots of self-promotion and requests to spread the word.

You work in the old-fashioned gig economy—you’re a professional. Know any consultants, lawyers, accountants, or real estate agents? They’ve been selling themselves their whole careers. Signing reams of holiday cards to keep those relationships warm until the next time clients need to sell a house, write a will, or do their taxes.

You’re trying to get yourself (or your favorite brand) noticed on social media. Maybe you’re officially (or unofficially) in charge of getting attention for your organization on LinkedIn, or Instagram, or Facebook. You’re begging for likes, shares, and comments from everyone you know.

You volunteer for a charity or not-for-profit in your community. You need cash donations, underwear for hurricane victims, people to support your 100-mile bike ride. You’re asking for people’s time and money.

Or you’re just trying to raise kids in the 2010’s. They have school trips, hockey tournaments, or playgrounds that need to be funded. So, you’re peddling candy bars, wrapping paper, or raffle tickets.

How many of these types of interactions do you have in a regular week…either as the requestor or the receiver? I bet it’s a lot. I am guilty of most of these this week alone! Is it taking a toll on you? I feel it wearing me down.

As Whippman points out in her article…

“Being sold to can be socially awkward, for sure, but when it comes to corrosive self-doubt, being the seller is a thousand times worse. The constant curation of a salable self demanded by the new economy can be a special hellspring of anxiety.”

Ok, so how do you manage these exchanges so they don’t erode your self-confidence or your relationships?

Be deliberate about pitching

Think hard about to whom you want to pitch things and to whom you don’t. For example, I have a personal Facebook page (gratuitous travel photos, kid stuff, and a mélange of interesting articles about the perils of middle age) and a professional Facebook page (which tries to add value for people dealing with the messy people issues at work). I certainly hope that my friends are interested in my work page, but I don’t cross post more than once or twice a year. Friends get to interact with me on Facebook without being asked to endure my endless self-promotion (only my endless mom bragging).

Similarly, think about where and from whom you want to be pitched. LinkedIn is getting out of control in this regard. Some unrecognizable person connects with you and three minutes later is pitching you for a job, to be their local country representative, or my least favorite, to improve your website. I have started turning down many requests to minimize the amount of pitching I’m having to endure. You can also refuse to answer the phone, unsubscribe from emails, and walk past the catalogue your colleague leaves in the lunchroom.

Have limits

I have had to impose limits on the amount of time and energy I invest in the trade of favors—both how much time I spend asking for them and doling them out. When it comes to building relationships with people who might promote my work, I dedicate from 6:30 -7:30 each morning reading articles, blogs, and newsfeeds. I share the work of key influencers that I find useful and I post or email their articles if they might be of use to specific friends or clients. I trust that these activities will earn me the influencers’ respect and eventually, their assistance. Then I go back to focusing on doing great work. I don’t want to spend more time promoting than I do contributing.

On the other side of the ledger, I meter my granting of favors too. For example, I get many requests to “have coffee.” I set aside a couple of days a month and pack them with as many as possible, but once those are full, I’m out. I will provide advice, counsel, connections, whatever you need. I just have to make sure that I don’t do it so often that I begin to resent what I otherwise find to be one of my favorite things about having a high-profile job.

Have integrity

I notice a lot of people recommending things that aren’t great products because they have fallen into the “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours” routine. If I say something nice about your book, you’ll say something nice about mine. This makes me really uncomfortable. I don’t want people saying nice things about my ideas if they don’t think they’re good ideas and I certainly don’t want to bruise my reputation by recommending something I don’t find valuable.

If someone asks me to recommend something, I agree up front to check it out, but not to endorse it. If I think it’s valuable, I endorse whole-heartedly. If I think it’s of modest value, I focus on the valuable parts and specify who might like it. If I can’t do either of those things, I don’t write a bad review, I just don’t write one at all.

Have the uncomfortable conversation

When it all starts to wear on you. When you can’t do even…one…more…favor, it’s time to say something. Be kind and direct. It’s better than building up resentment and animosity without saying anything.

“You’re using your Facebook page mostly to sell your business these days, I miss seeing pictures of the kids.”

“I am not going to support Timmie’s hoola-hoop marathon. I sponsored his dodge-ball-a-thon and I only do one per kid, per year so I can share the wealth.”

“You want me to refer you to my network. How about you look through and see on my LinkedIn who you want a connection to. If you write them a note, I’ll pass it on.”

“I’m not having any more meetings this month. Would it be helpful to have a quick phone call?”

If you get back in control of the gives and takes in your relationships, you’ll feel so much better. You’ll be able to experience the joy of helping someone out—someone you really want to support. And you’ll feel good about asking for help because it will be the right ask, at the right time, of the right person. It’s time to stop badgering, bludgeoning, and begging one another with endless self-promotion.

Further Reading

Tips to Improve the Connection When You Communicate

Enough is Enough! Tips and Tools for Saying NO

How to Handle Someone Who Talks Too Much

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