Cooperation vs. Using

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As all of us who have personalities geared towards service know,  it can be difficult at times to tell the difference between jumping into a cooperative relationship and jumping into a situation where someone is using our cooperative nature to, well, use us. Here are some key differences to be on the lookout for:

Those who are cooperative express gratitude when we assist them; users are not thankful and often try to guilt-trip us into doing more and more.

I’ve had fellow bloggers gush all over me for something as simple as sending out a tweet. And truthfully, their recognition gives me the warm fuzzies because it shows that they respect and appreciate the time I spent reading their work.

At the other end of the spectrum, I’ve come across people on social media who have asked me to buy their product, then hound me to purchase more and more. They are irate when I turn them down. This mentality applies to the world outside the online Universe too. How many of us have been roped into saying “yes” to doing more favors than we can handle under the guise of a great social cause, new start up, or free “opportunity”?

The truth is, it’s not our responsibility to cooperate with others on joint ventures. Instead, it’s our choice. So if anyone is trying to make us feel bad about what we haven’t done, rather than thanking us for what we have done, it may be best to move on from the situation.

Those who seek cooperation are up front and honest about what they need and what they can offer; those who use try to manipulate us into participation.

Integrity is established through the decision to say what we mean and mean what we say. A clearly communicated contract that is followed through on is a sign that a relationship is healthy and that teamwork will benefit all members of the team.

Bait and switch type manipulations occur when someone wants to take more than they give. Users gamble on us not speaking up if we’re being led astray from the original agreement, and many times we don’t say anything because we’ve had experiences where our words have been twisted to make US seem like the user. However, whether we choose to confront a user directly or simply not participate in their agenda, either way we’re taking our power back. This enables us to use our energy on people who are legitimately interested in helping us as much as we help them.

Those who cooperate love to teach; those who use love to ridicule us for wanting to learn. 

I belong to a number of Facebook groups in which the group leaders are constantly sending out useful information about blogging and the freelance world. They also post paid learning opportunities that we can choose to participate in or not, but these are separate from the free learning materials, and they are non-coercive.

On the other hand, I recently experienced a situation in which I asked if I could shadow someone to learn more about their journalistic technique. Instead of being excited about the prospect of mentoring me after I’d agreed to do free work for them, the person bluntly told me that it’s easy and I should just go out there and do it.

The difference here is that users are interested in having power OVER us in order to manipulate us for their purposes, whereas cooperative folks are interested in EMPOWERING us to succeed, learn, and grow.

Those who cooperate learn the details of our story; those who use only want to tell us their story.

If we find ourselves in a pleasant give and take conversation, chances are we’re chatting with a cooperative Soul. If, however, the words “Oh my God when is this going to end?” keep popping in our head, there’s more likely a user at the other end of the dialogue who is rambling on ad nauseam about their life, dreams, goals, and how we can help them with all three of these.

The important thing to remember in all these situations is that we can go into any interaction with healthy boundaries in place. Terri Cole’s How to Create Healthy Boundaries at Positively Positive is a great resource for learning about the ins and outs of boundary setting, and how much it benefits our interactions.

If and when people prove to be trustworthy and interested in giving as much as they take, then we can start to remove our boundaries one by one. That’s the space in which truly cooperative ventures occur to enhance our lives and skyrocket our dreams forward- jointly.



Group of business people working outdoors.





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