Extremely Dependent People
Elizabeth Taylor, Mickey Rooney, and many other people who marry repeatedly illustrate extreme dependence. They are so desperate for love and acceptance that they can never get enough of it. They change mates again and again, hoping that someone, somewhere, will fill that aching void.
Jimmy Carter was – by a huge margin – the most dependent recent president. Of course, he could never have become president without considerable dominance, but he had many extremely dependent characteristics. Instead of leading forcefully, he was deliberately self-effacing (smiling constantly, carrying his own luggage, walking at his inauguration, asking to be called, “Jimmy”), and he pleaded for understanding and affection from us, our allies, even the Soviets. He also illustrated some of dependency’s positive effects. After years of war, Nixon, and Watergate, we needed a decent, warmer president who inspired trust and openness.
General Characteristics: They crave people’s love, acceptance, understanding, and approval. They can’t feel good about themselves unless people like them. They really are dependent upon others’ feelings about them.
They are warm, friendly, and sincerely interested in other people. They want to be part of a group and enjoy most social gatherings. They are gracious and have excellent manners and a natural ability to make others feel welcome and comfortable. Because they sincerely like other people, they are good listeners and are sensitive to other people’s needs and feelings.
They communicate openly and honestly and expect the same from others. Because they know that they can be trusted, they tend to trust other people. They are gullible and trusting, even when they should be more cautious or skeptical. (Used car salespeople love them.)
They are cooperative, flexible, and compliant. They go along with other people’s ideas because they trust them and want to be liked.
They are givers. They want to help people, especially those who reward them with gratitude and affection.
All these characteristics make them popular. Many people naturally like and trust them. However, some people, especially dominant ones, can easily manipulate and exploit them. They go along with suggestions, even when they should be more skeptical, perhaps even when they suspect that they are being exploited.
Fears: They are afraid of being alone, of rejection, and of all forms of conflict (including competition). They are frightened by hostility, especially their own. They want to believe they feel warmly toward everyone and vice versa.
These fears can create serious problems during certain kinds of negotiations. They nearly always try to create a friendly atmosphere, even when a formal, indifferent or even an adversarial one would be much better. If the others create a hostile atmosphere, they have no idea of what to do. They may appeal to their good nature, even when dealing with a devious, manipulative crook. They often take an impersonal conflict as a personal rejection.
Hidden Question: Do you really care about me? They want to deal only with people who sincerely care about them, so their key concern is your sincerity and affection.
One reason for this question is their past experiences of being exploited. Because they recognize that they are vulnerable, they may be suspicious about others’ sincerity. They wonder, “Do they really like me, or do they just want to manipulate me?”
They often play little games. These games are different from those of dominant people, but they have the same objective: to answer that hidden question, to learn if you’re their kind of person. For example, dependent customers often object that sales reps ignore them except when they want to make a sale. “How come I never see you except when it’s time to buy something?” They may smile while asking, but it’s often an extremely serious question.
Attitude Toward Negotiations: They intensely dislike negotiations, especially their competitive elements. They dislike conflict and fear that bargaining will make other people reject them. They avoid negotiations, rush through them, or make unnecessary concessions just to escape the tension.
When they negotiate, they overemphasize joint problem-solving. Even in situations that clearly call for bargaining (such as price negotiations with strangers or hard-liners), they may try to work cooperatively. They may even rationalize, “Well, one of us has to be reasonable. Since they’re being so unreasonable, I’ll move and hope they will do the same.”
In addition to making them lose many negotiations, that attitude actually encourages some people to take advantage of them. They essentially reward others for making outrageous demands, stonewalling, or lying.
Because they detest conflict, they are comfortable only when joint problem-solving, but virtually all negotiations contain some conflict. In high-conflict negotiations this discomfort is an extremely serious liability.
Negotiating Strengths: Their pattern of strengths and weaknesses is almost exactly the opposite of dominant people’s. One is strong where the other is weak. Dominant people are natural bargainers; dependent people are natural problem-solvers. Dominant people enjoy, create and increase conflict, while dependent people dislike, avoid, minimize or deny it.
Dominant people win many negotiations, but miss many deals. Dependent people will make deals that other types couldn’t make, turn around bad relationships, and establish a foundation for future cooperation, but they leave lots of money on the table.
Dependent people excel at joint problem-solving negotiations for many reasons. First and most important, they sincerely want to work out a fair, mutually satisfactory agreement. This desire for fairness is especially valuable during negotiations within an organization; they strive for agreements that are best for the whole company and their working relationships.
They reduce tensions, bring together people who don’t want to cooperate, and break deadlocks. Nearly every organization needs people like that.
Because they communicate openly and honestly, they encourage other people to do the same. Both sides can build on that essential foundation of trust and information.
Since they genuinely want to understand others and are good listeners, they often learn other people’s goals, motives, and constraints.
Their natural fairness lets them work out a mutually satisfactory agreement.
Their flexibility and improved communications can produce creative explorations. Instead of considering only one or two ways to put together a deal, they may experiment, explore, and produce a creative and superior solution.
They build solid, trusting, long-term relationships. Many people like to work with them, and they may even accept an apparently inferior deal because they know that dependent people can be trusted to implement the agreement honestly, give extra service, and make sure that they are treated fairly.
They are exceptionally good team members. Instead of pushing their own agenda, or using the team to advance their selfish interests, they cooperate with their teammates and follow instructions.
These strengths make them valuable members of most organizations, especially intensely competitive ones. They add relatively rare, but virtually indispensable, qualities.
Negotiating Weaknesses: Their problem-solving strengths are much smaller than their bargaining weaknesses. Many negotiations don’t contain significant problem-solving opportunities, but there is always conflict. Without conflict, there’s no need to negotiate.
Many dependent people simply can’t accept that reality. Their greatest negotiating weakness is naivete about conflict They are so afraid of conflict that they may wish it away, ignoring the obvious fact that it is as inescapable as death and taxes. As we saw earlier, Getting to Yes became a best seller by pandering to the naïve hope that negotiators can wish away conflict. It called joint problem-solving “principled negotiation” and made the absurd claim that it was an all- purpose strategy that would work in every situation, even with hijackers.
Dependent people’s naivete affects many aspects of negotiations. For example, they may openly share information and expect that others will reciprocate, but many, many people withhold information, bluff, or lie during negotiations.
Extremely dependent people essentially invite exploitation by approaching nearly all negotiations as problem-solving sessions. They may even feel guilty about competing or trying to protect their own interests. In situations that call for bargaining, they give away too much rather than fight for their fair share.
Despite their perceptiveness about people’s needs and feelings, they aren’t sensitive to power and other people’s limits. They’re gullible, even about obvious lies.
A final weakness derives from their excessive fairness. When they feel that other people have been too exploitative, they can become extraordinarily rigid. They let people push and exploit them again and again. Suddenly, if they feel too exploited, they absolutely refuse to move one more inch, even if some concessions are clearly justified.
For example, video productions generally have extremely rigid deadlines. Studios, actors, and directors are booked in advance, and it costs over $20,000 for each scheduled day whether you are shooting, waiting for an actor to show up, or rewriting the script. The final scripts must be approved well in advance so the actors can memorize their lines, the sets and special effects can be designed, the director can decide how to shoot each scene, and so on. Any lateness creates serious problems and unnecessary expenses.
A dear friend was a talented writer. Although she was responsible for the final script, she had to rely upon other people to provide input or approve the scripts, and they often took advantage of her. They submitted things late, didn’t even read their assignments before script conferences, and generally made her life miserable. Because they were so irresponsible, she often had to work extremely long hours just before the deadline.
Since she was exceptionally dependent, she let them get away with it until they went too far. Then she became irrationally rigid: “I won’t change one word! Not one comma! I don’t care if the script makes sense or not!”
Less extreme, but similar reactions occur fairly frequently. Very few people are as rigid and stubborn as a dependent person who feels exploited. If you don’t return their sincerity and fairness, they may become so angry that they refuse to make justified concessions or walk away from an acceptable deal.
Best Way To Approach Them: Focus on the relationship. They avoid working with people they don’t like and trust. Establish rapport, build trust, and make sure you deserve that trust.
Recognize that they avoid conflict and dislike negotiating. They would rather determine what’s fair to both sides and accept it without dickering.
Stress fairness, and do it sincerely. Don’t take an outrageous position and insist that it’s fair. Take a reasonable, but ambitious, position and show why it’s fair. If they believe it’s fair to both of you, they will often agree.
Remember that their concern for fairness presents both an opportunity and a risk for you. The opportunity is that they want to help you to meet your objectives if they feel you’re being fair. Conversely, if they feel you’re being devious, or playing games, or trying to exploit them, they can become stubborn, inflexible, or even spiteful. Resist the temptation to take excessive advantage of them; it can backfire.