Being a misfit in a world that’s forgotten courtesies


I used to think I was a no-expectations carefree-kinda person till the day I started noticing something odd. If I helped someone, I expected an acknowledgement of the help. Thing is I urgently felt the need to help others when they needed it. A lot of times, people didn’t even seek my help, they just shared their problems. So I assumed I was their Superhero.

No wonder that my help was taken for granted, afterall, it wasn’t sought. And boy that hurt. So it has taken me years and years of practice to realise the obvious – I am fairly incapable of helping people, and definitely unable to do so selflessly.

Of course this Superhero-mode still tempts me, once in a while. So what’s this post all about really? While I am on a journey of a major attitude correction, I am also observing that the world around me is getting increasingly devoid of basic courtesy.

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The ‘No’ that didn’t come by so easily

Networking and connecting people with each other, for instance, has become a demand not a request. The other day, a human resource professional and a Linked-in acquaintance sent me a text if I knew a formidable PHP developer. I replied sending her the name and contact number of an acquaintance who was a PHP developer. She replied saying if I also knew how many years of experience he had. Negative. Next thing, she asked me if there were any other candidates I knew. No. Then she went on to ask me if the recommended friend also had any Magento experience. Now at this point, I was duly annoyed. So I asked her to find all these details herself because well, she was the ‘human resource’ person, I wasn’t. Boy, I had tickled a beehive. Taste it a little.

“I was only asking for a basic help, why are you being so hyper? Being a Linked-in contact, you are supposed to help a fellow contact, afterall.”

“Oh really? So then I am sure you are aware of the basic Linked-in etiquette too. You don’t ask unsolicited questions to a contact? ”

“I am fully aware of the Linked-in etiquette madam. Actually you are not. You are someone who thinks very highly of herself…….”

At this point, I stopped myself at the foolishness of this back and forth and left the chat right there. I wasted good 10 minutes of my time on a so-called Linked-in contact that I had never met or talked with before.

My lesson: Just say No the first time. Period.

The expectation issue

There was a bright engineering student who wanted to ‘work with me’ as a freelance writer. I have a post production and content marketing company. And we have worked with a bunch of amazing freelancers who have stuck with our company for many years. So I was pretty open.

I assured him that I would send him some live project assignment soon, so he should be ready. Why live project? Because from his work samples, he seemed to be a writer who could be put to work immediately.

When the expected website content project did start to roll, I gave him the three most creative pages to write. It was an advertising company. I wrote detailed email with instructions, reference websites, rival websites to compare and all that. It’s a process I follow for myself in order to write content that stands out.

Then I duly texted him to check his email and revert. He didnt’ revert the whole day. Actually, he didn’t even reply to my text. The deadline was three days later, so I gave him a benefit of doubt. When I didn’t receive an acknowledgement of my email even the end of next day, I decided to call him.

He couldn’t pick up the phone call since he was in class, he texted. I started working on those three pages, the deadline was approaching fast.

I was done with sending the content to the client. Now I had the time to confront this guy. He said he was expecting me to invite him over to my office, give him a laptop or a computer (since he didn’t have any of those) and mentor him personally.

I reminded him that I made it very clear that it was a work-from-home kinda arrangement. To this he said that’s why he lost interest in the assignment.

Nothing wrong in backing up from an assignment but I expected him to at least duly inform me of his intention. I had no idea about his expectations till the day I confronted him. He never replied to my email or hint me through a call or text.

My lesson: Be proactive and pester people to death till they tell me about what they expect from me.

Despite these lessons, I have still stubbornly refused to become or behave like one of these individuals. Here are some of my practices that I am never giving up:

  • Tell the truth, no matter what. People deserve to know what’s happening when they are a party to the matter.
  • If annoyed, show it and admit that you are annoyed. Don’t keep people guessing what’s bothering you.
  • If you have a problem (personal or professional), be forthright and say it. People deserve to know why you are not suddenly speaking or talking or acting abnormally.
  • Stop trying to be great like not sharing a problem or a pain or a hurt. Be good instead. It works in most situations and saves you and others a lot of hurt.
  • When someone does a favour, acknowledge immediately. Whether or not that favour would help is not the matter at hand, acknowledgement is.
  • Learn to give one-line replies to emails when you cannot deal with the issue at the moment. Put the other person’s mind at rest for the moment.

But hey I am in the making. I try to follow these as much as I can.

What direct benefit do I get from these? Umm, let’s see.

  • You didn’t give me a call back – I don’t hear this often.
  • It’s okay if you couldn’t complete this, you tried – that’s nice to hear.
  • I get repeat clients. Even those who hated me at first, have got back to me often.
  • Free recommendations of my work – now who doesn’t want that?

Look I am not trying to be perfect. Quite the opposite, in fact. I am trying to survive. I am barely managing in a world that doesn’t return courtesies. Also, I am trying to be less clingy when it comes to helping others. That’s a tough one. Wish me luck. ( I am not as cool as I look in this picture)

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