Death to covert contracts

I read No More Mr. Nice Guy a couple weeks ago and I can’t decide if it was life changing or sexist pseudoscientific garbage. At the moment I’m thinking it’s a little bit of both.

But one concept hit home for me: covert contracts. The idea is that “Nice Guys” (and of course there are “Nice Gals” too, but the book is written for men) aren’t all that nice. They’re playing the part so that they’ll get what they want. They think:

IF I can hide my flaws and become what I think others want me to be
THEN I will be loved, get my needs met, and have a problem-free life.

Robert A. Glover, No More Mr. Nice Guy

This is called a covert contract. If I do X, then you’ll do Y, even though neither of us have acknowledged it. Of course, the other person has no idea this is happening; it’s all in the Nice Guy’s head. So the Nice Guy doesn’t get what he wants.

And this isn’t just your average everyday implicit expectation. In this case, the Nice Guy feels like he’s been cheated. He thinks the other person owes him and didn’t hold up their end of the bargain (which they didn’t know existed). So he ends up disappointed and frustrated, which manifests in not-at-all-nice behavior: passive aggression, isolation, clinginess, rage, all sorts of stuff.

The book talked a lot about relationships and sex (“if I am loving and giving towards my wife all day then she’ll have sex with me tonight”). But now that it has a name, I notice it everywhere:

  • Work: “If I review your code quickly then you’ll make it a priority to review mine.”
  • Parenting: “If we do a fun craft then you won’t pitch a hissy fit when I say no candy afterwards.”
  • Friendships: “If I don’t make fun of your weight then you won’t make fun of my height.”

The punchline is that everyone would be happier if the Nice Guy would just ask for what he wants.

I’ve talked before about how being clear is scary, and how a lot of my actions are avoidance based. In the spirit of my 2021 theme of the Year Of Courage, this introduction to covert contracts has given me a new mantra:

Just say it.

Death to covert contracts. Ask for what you want. Clear is kind, unclear is unkind. Just say it.

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