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Recognizing and Dealing With Hidden Agendas

Some people have hidden agendas: Goals that they wish to accomplish at some cost to others. To the astute, these agendas can quickly become quite obvious. (If someone wishes to accomplish a goal and it is not at some cost to others, then that isn't an agenda, but just a goal.)

What kinds of hidden agendas can people have? They might want to

  • Make themselves feel better about themselves by putting other people down.
  • Achieve a position of power or prestige at the expense of others.
  • Control other people.
  • Make other people feel bad about themselves.

How can you recognize a hidden agenda? Pay attention to what a person says or does, and see how you feel in response to it. If someone says something that may seem like some kind of compliment, but feels like a put-down, then it could be an action arising out of a hidden agenda. If you confront that person about it (lovingly, of course), and they deny it or try to explain it away, give them the benefit of the doubt, but keep an eye on them. If the same kind of behavior continues, and you confront them again on it and they still deny it or explain it away, but continue acting the same, then the likelihood is high that it is a hidden agenda. (Sometimes a person's agendas are hidden even from themselves, because they are in denial about it.)

At that point, you need to decide what you want to do about/with that person. Do you want to keep associating with them? If it is a friend, you can drop the friendship—after all, what kind of friend continually tries to undermine you, control you, or make you feel bad about yourself?

If it is a family member or co-worker or, worse yet, a boss, it can be a little trickier—it is harder to just drop such people, but you are free to do everything you can to minimize contact with that person, and to also develop some defense strategies of your own.

If you are the book-reading sort, there are some excellent books you can read that can help raise your awareness about other people's hidden agendas and how to deal with them. Here is just a sampling (with links to Amazon.com, though you can also try your local library):

One thing to be aware of is that it takes time to learn to recognize hidden agendas, and even more time to learn the skills required to deal effectively with these agendas. A recent study has shown that being compassionate with yourself is actually more important when dealing with difficult situations than having good self-esteem. So be kind and gentle with yourself while you are learning, and know that there is always more to learn.

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