“It’s your fault.”

“No, you don’t understand. I continue to go above and beyond what is expected to help this client time after time. I have bent over backwards trying to help this team. This last request is just ridiculous, but they keep hounding me.”

“Yes, I understand and it is your fault. You have taught them how to act and now you are trying to change the rules of engagement.”

“Huh?”

We train people how to behave. When people become relentless in a situation, consider they have been trained, for better or worse. You have the opportunity to enforce that behavior or reshape it. Think about it. It applies to the rest of your life, why not work? Any time I take my Infiniti in for service, they have a loaner car waiting. For the first couple of years, I appreciated this as a luxury even though I was always prepared to wait for my oil change. Now I have the expectation there will be a loaner and I schedule my day accordingly. Maybe you can or maybe you cannot imagine my righteous indignation when there was no loaner when I took my car in for an oil change last week. I had an expectation based on past experience.

The way you work with people sets an expectation also. While in your mind you are doing more for client a than client b, you are setting a level of expectation for client a. Even if you tell client a, I’m doing more for you than I anyone else, you are still setting an expectation. There are a couple of questions to ask yourself about this. Is this something you can maintain? Are you getting anything out of it? What happens if everyone finds out?

There is a group that constantly gets their expenses in late and you make exceptions. But what if everyone found out? Would it be an issue if everyone put in their expenses after the deadline? What if you go on vacation and your replacement has to handle the situation? Is there going to be an issue? Most of all, what does all of this do for you? Does it help you get your job done? Will people feel obligated to help you? It’s worth a few minutes to think this through because once that pattern of repeated behavior has been established, it will not be easy to change in the future.

Go above and beyond, do everything you can when it is going to make a difference for you. It’s not selfish, it’s survival. What do they tell you on the plane? Please administer the air to yourself first. If you keep trying to do “favors” for others, relaxing the rules for others with nothing in return you will soon be depleted. I had to train myself. When people would ask for numbers, I would spend several of hours to put them into tables and charts. One day I was really busy and I was asked for some information and I sent the raw numbers. The response back was, no I need the charts, and I have an executive meeting in the morning. That was enough for me to realize I needed to stop the insanity. The client was not being unreasonable. I had set an expectation I needed to meet.

Someone being unreasonable, making crazy requests, in an absolute tizzy because something has gone awry? Their crazy is not your responsibility. There is a saying, poor planning on your part, does not constitute an emergency on mine. Does this mean never help a colleague out? No. Recognize there is a difference between collaboration, help and support versus setting an expectation. When you consider doing extra work, making changes, being accommodating, consider the long term consequences. There is an expectation that people are somewhat consistent. The way you start is the way you will be expected to finish. If you start with extraordinary measures, don’t be surprise if you end with crazy. You can bend; just make sure you don’t break.