Have you ever been in a situation that started out as a simple favor, but then turned into a demanding nightmare?
I guess we have all been there.
In this blog I will share with you all an incident I had never seen coming.
I made the mistake of being too available and helpful, and sadly my kindness was mistaken for weakness. Obviously, I take full responsibility for not putting boundaries in place from the start and for not putting things straight about the fact that this was a business transaction past a certain point, not a charity event.
Moreover, another slipup from my end was that I expected the other party to have similar values to myself seen the fact we have the same nationality and similar interests.
Nothing was less true.
After this fiasco, I can say that I have learned my lesson and will never be caught out in this way ever again. This is how it all started…
I had been invited as an alumni guest to the annual Law Ball of my university. There I met Bill, a Law professor for the past 30 years. He was seated at my table. We struck up a conversation and it turned out he was also from Belgium, but had been living in Australia for over 30 years. Seen the fact that we were fellow Belgians and because we had a lot in common, we decided to stay in touch and catch up for coffee so now and then. Bill told me he liked going to ‘open for inspections’ on the weekends and shared with me that he was looking for an investment property. Because I have always had a vast interest in the property market, we decided to visit a few properties each weekend. Weeks later, my neighbor told me that they were planning to put their house on the market. Coincidently, I also knew how much they would hope to get for it as my neighbor lady had told me during a chat in the park. I shared all the info with Bill and off we went to the ‘open for inspection’ before the house would go to auction. Bill seemed to have quite some competition, as there were many interested parties attending the ‘open house’. It turned out that he would be in Melbourne for a conference just on the day when the house would be auctioned.
My helping nature came to the rescue and I proposed to attend the auction on his behalf. He gladly accepted. So off I went… turned out there were many bidders and with Bill’s instructions I was not able to outbid them. So, I retuned home empty handed after 2 hours. The real estate agent mentioned in passing that he had another house coming on the market soon… so he stated that Bill should stay tuned. Indeed another very similar house came on the market and Bill was invited to view it before anyone else. He made an offer and it was accepted. The only issue was that the house had been run down a little and needed a facelift before going in the rental pool. Bill asked me if I knew any good trades people in my network. I told him that I could most definitely assist as my husband is in the building industry.
Bill handed me the keys to his new place and left for Europe on a 2-month research trip. I had promised to let the painters in when the works were conducted. But it did not stop there!
After the painting, he wanted a new bench top to be placed in the kitchen with new a cooktop. On top of that, with all the alterations also a new splash back had to be placed. Later, the ai-conditioning was not working so I organized an expert to come out and make repairs. Next, the outside light had to be replaced and I also organized an electrician… etcetera.
In the meantime I kept communicating with Bill over text message, providing pictures of the ‘before’ and ‘after’ jobs. He stated – I quote: “ You have been an amazing project manager, I have no idea how I can thank you and pay you for all this running around you have done for me…”
Coordinating all the different tasks had taken me over one month and a half, so a reward would only have been fair, although we had not discussed this prior to Bill leaving. I had anticipated that painting would have been the only job I had to get organized. Never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined these renovations to escalate to this extent.
However, when Bill came home from his 2-month European research trip, his house was all renovated and rent-ready. In the mean time I had also introduced him to one of my dear friends who owns a rental agency and provides an excellent service.
When I met Bill for coffee to hand him the keys back, he asked me: “ I know that you have gone above and beyond for me over the summer holidays, coordinating all these trades people…what is it that I can do for you? How can I possibly repay you for all your time and effort?”
Seen the fact that my mobile had recently been playing up, I said: “Well, I could use a new phone.” Bill looked at me as if I spoke Russian and then repeated his initial question. I repeated my answer, but he still did not want to hear my answer. He started talking about something else and just carried on as if I had never replied.
At this stage, I still believed that he was a man of his word. A senior Law professor at one of the most prestigious universities in Australia, a fellow Belgian – how could he possibly act in this manner?
If he would be really honest to himself, he would gladly admit that when hiring a professional project manager to handle the renovations for his house, the cost of a new phone would only be an initial deposit.
I walked away from that meeting pondering…
Had it ever been Bill’s intention to present me with a token of appreciation, or had I just been a simple and overly kind woman with a great network of connections that had been taken advantage of?
That evening Bill called me again, asking for me to drop by at the house, as he needed my assistance with taking pictures and how to organize the rental side.
I thought by myself: No! Now it has been enough! I have spent most of the summer months running around picking up cooktops, letting trades people into the house and going to check up on the progress of the works, coordinating jobs, keeping everyone happy, locking up and communicating the progress of the works with pictures to Bill in Europe… and this is my thank you?
This was the moment – the straw that broke the camel’s back!
Enough was enough!
Too much is too much!
I cut ties with Bill right there and then.
Unfortunately, I never received anything from Bill as compensation for my time, effort and network connections.
My expectation of him being an honest man with great integrity, seen his profession was just an illusion. And I can say with certainty: It has been a wonderful lesson for me, not to assume, a profession, a nationality…it doesn’t mean a thing – actions speak louder than words.
I have also understood that it is best to document everything in writing and get it approved with a money value attached, and to write up a contract for everything you plan to do with two or more parties involved!
Lastly, when things get past the point of being a friendly gesture to assist, make it clear what the deal is before putting in your time and effort.
It all comes back to Social Exchange Theory, in which is clearly explained that if one party only ‘provides’ and the other party only ‘takes’, a relationship cannot sustain. The equilibrium between giving and receiving needs to be maintained.
I do trust this was helpful, so when you recognize yourself in this pattern, you can act immediately and say: No more! I know my value!