How to identify, isolate, and evade takers, ‘brain pickers’, and manipulation makers
About half of these consultations do not lead to a partnership. This is due to various reasons such as my approach and philosophy not working for them, or them needing something I cannot offer. Sometimes, they are not ready, and a conversation helps them to determine that.
Honestly, I appreciate the fifty percent conversion rate. A good coach does not take every person who crosses their proverbial door, and this consultation is exceedingly important in the process.
However, I’ve had a recent experience that truly flabbergasted me. I saw that someone made an appointment for one of these free business coaching informational chats. It was the same day that they subscribed to my newsletters. They had never been on my radar before. This is quite unusual as there is typically a dance that happens where people check me out, maybe come to a Zoom session, or get a reading before reaching out to me for business coaching. Usually, they are on my radar.
This person decided to book themselves for my last slot of the evening: 8:30–9pm. This is a precious and highly sought-after time slot because that is when kids are asleep, the workday is done, and people have time for a session. It also is a big sacrifice for me because working evenings also means I do not see my family, or friends who work 9–5. I only offer them two or three times a week.
At the appointed time, we connect, and she immediately launches into a story with her background before even introducing herself kind of as an afterthought. She was gushing about the things she had read about me and how great they were. But, then came the true request: “I am not interested in coaching. Maybe later. But can you help me with this aspect of business? I have looked everywhere on Google and cannot find anything.”
I felt my skin flush because it literally did not compute that someone would even think to cross a boundary like this. And honestly? I let her know, “If you had no intention of getting coaching, then why did you book this session with me?”
“I know, I am so sorry. But I saw that it was available and so I took it.” She said.
“But…don’t you know that when you take a slot like this, especially this kind of time slot, you prevented a client the opportunity to book?” I asked.
She was contrite. She apologized profusely. And, I think (hope) she learned as valuable a lesson as I did. I mean, she certainly inspired me to write this. So, lady that booked me for a session when you just wanted free advice, I thank you.
What you thought was just a friendly outing (and boy, do you need one, right? Entrepreneurialship can be lonely, thirsty work,) you are dismayed to see, wasn’t a social call it all. It had an agenda.
You will find people come out of the woodwork: old friends, acquaintances, other readers who “befriend” you, and with it comes the open hand, expecting that you will just give, “Because we are friends.” Usually, the moment you place a boundary and ask for them to pay for your time, they are as silent as the first snow in winter.
Either that or they will say they would love to pay you or they will pay you or they will consider paying you…later. Always later. Because, they are not thinking about you. They are only thinking about themselves. They do not understand that their “goodly intention” is actually robbing you. Robbing you of time. Robbing you of respect. Robbing you of genuine friendship and camaraderie.
Because, the thing is, is that you are probably a very generous person at heart. If these people had just asked and offered to pay you, you would have said, “That’s ok” and given them a few pointers because that is just what you do. Because I know that you care.
In the beginning I used to agonize over putting my boundaries in place. It made me feel like a bad person. But what I learned (the hard way) is that feeding these “hungry ghosts” will make them only demand more. You are rewarding them for bad behavior and training them to expect that relationship to continue.
So, let me spell it out with some pointers that will help you easily discern if the person coming your way is a hungry ghost:
The Ambush: They corner you and try to use your social niceness against you in order to get what they want. Maybe they will brazenly do what that person who inspired this post did and actually book a session to put you on the spot. They might invite you to lunch without telling you the agenda ahead of time and corner you at your favorite Mexican joint (shame on them, ’cause who doesn’t want to focus on their enchilada?).
They might find you at a conference or call you out on social media and corner you there, where you would look like a “bad person” or maybe a “miserly person” for not giving them what they want. Remember, the surprise attack here is key. You are not being asked, you are not being offered a choice. Moreover, they are definitely not saying that they want to compensate you for your time.
The Butter Up: These people will seem like they are your biggest fans, and they will use that as leverage. They sing your praises from here to the high heavens, but those praises come with strings attached-long emails or DMs asking you for your time and expertise. Because, they just love you! Why can’t you help? Aren’t you a good person like they thought you were?!
The Slippery Sloper: They start off with an innocent request of your time. It isn’t much, really. You could totally help out, and you want to. It’ll only take a minute. This tactic reminds me of that a crappy high school date at the movies: first comes the hand on the arm, then the yawn and fake-out boob graze, and the next thing you know, you have a tongue jammed down your throat. Usually, there is no consent asked for, and it is a slow, meticulous evolution into much longer requests, and even entitled demands on your time.
Debtor’s Prison: These hungry ghosts start off with telling you that they totally did something for you: like sent so many clients your way or gave you exposure on their platform. Then they will ask for a favor in return.
You are put in an incredibly difficult spot, right? It is so tricky to use gratitude and guilt to gain an advantage. This typically goes hand-in-hand with people who are well-trained in Victim Complex, “Well, I did this and this for you, and you can’t even do that for me?” (sad face).
The Ties that Bind: These are family, friends, and people connected to your partners who will take advantage of you and use emotional ties to do so. “But we are cousins! Remember that time when we had that Jell-O fight?! Come on, man, you know me! Help me out!”
These are typically the most entitled because they know you as the friend or as the brother’s girlfriend. They have hung out with you. They know you. They like you. Of course, you will help them, ’cause they would help you! You would be a monster to charge your own family member. How could you possibly do that, right?
Gee, I guess it’s “all business now, isn’t it?” they might say with a condescending snort. They might even pull the, “I guess you are just too good for me (us, this place, our relationship, etc.)”
RUN, my friend, RUN
And, when you inform them about their transgression, it is a chance for them to learn. Maybe they didn’t know, haven’t figured it out, or are panicking. Perhaps your firm boundary is the thing they needed to really get all of this, and so you have done them a tremendous favor.
On the other hand, some people are just takers. They know exactly what they are doing. It is a tactic that has worked for them for a long time. The sooner you identify these hungry ghosts and mitigate their hold on you, the more you will be able to focus on those who DO value you, who RESPECT you, who are a JOY to work with.
As a result, many of these creators decide to put everything behind a paywall, or they just stop giving: such a loss to the community they contribute in.
What a damn shame.
Personally, I offer a lot of free content and low-cost content. I have written extremely comprehensive books, all quite affordable. I could have put it all behind a pay wall and extracted even more. I chose not to take that route. I offer a free, monthly meeting for Spiritual Entrepreneurs — no strings attached. I write weekly fortunes, not to mention content like this to help others.
And because I offer free content in ways that bring me joy, I am confident in the boundaries I have in place everywhere else. I am a naturally very giving person so I want to honor that about myself. But I need to help others in a way that is sustainable for me. Because to do anything else would mean burn-out, bitterness, and resentment towards the takers. I stay in control of the situation, and I do it in a way that makes me happy.
Then, with the space you have built for yourself with all of these luscious boundaries you have made, you can give back in ways that feel true and good to you. If you were socialized as a female, this can be especially hard, as it goes against all of the social lessons you have learned. It is hard for women to say, “No. Absolutely Not. Get The F*** Out Of Here With That Nonsense.”
Because we don’t want to make people mad. Because we are afraid of confrontation. To that, I say, “Psst, hey friend, I have a secret: the more you do it, the easier this gets.” And with takers? If you have made them mad, that usually means you are not giving them what they want. It means you are doing good!
Entitlement is one helluva drug. Some people were raised without learning boundaries. But the better you are with your boundaries, the more you can invite into your life people who will offer as much (if not more) than they get. See the takers out, don’t let the door hit ya where the good Lord split ya
I want to leave you with a good story because there are amazing people all over the place.. Recently, I had a pro reader sign up for one of my classes. When I asked her why she was taking it (as it is more of a tarot 101 class) she said, “You give so much for free, I wanted to give something back.”
It made me cry.
Find these people. Hold them close. They are worth their weight in gold. These are the ones who deserve your time.
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M.S. in Organizational Psychology and Leadership