Are You Afraid of Being “Taken Advantage Of” in a Collaborative Relationship?

We are moving toward a new paradigm of entrepreneurship. Gone are the days of hoarding resources and playing zero-sum games. We have the capability to create more if we share our knowledge and cheer each other on. This collaborative model is particularly cut out for women entrepreneurs because of our nature and ability to create nurturing environments that foster growth.
Sure, JV and collaboration are the buzzwords du jour. Sadly, some people are just paying lip service to this idea and at the back of their minds, they are afraid of “being exploited”, or taken advantage of.
“What’s the catch?” “Where’s the small print?” would inevitably cross our minds, as we are conditioned to be skeptical. We were conditioned to protect ourselves so we don’t get taken advantage of. However, by clamming down on our natural generosity and desire to contribute to a bigger whole, we may also limit the possibilities and opportunities we can open up for ourselves.
Being “generous” in business does not equate to becoming a martyr, a sucker, a loser, or being weak. We all have the capability to be generous without short-changing ourselves, therefore creating a win-win situation (or, as I like to say, have your cake and eat it too.)

Collaborative Relationships

For many, the fear of “being exploited,” or the bad experience of being taken advantage of, stem from poor (money) boundaries and being disempowered in (money) conversations.
This is actually good news, because if it’s our own boundary crime to commit, we can take action to upgrade our mindset so we can enter into collaborative relationships without holding back, knowing full well that when our boundary is being challenged or our voice is being disempowered, we can stand up for ourselves and our business.
A lot of our boundary issues, particularly for women, have their roots in cultural conditioning (read: that’s not your fault!) We are taught to be “nice”, to make everybody happy, to please others and to avoid conflict. Our fear of not being liked makes us compromise our boundaries and not speak up for ourselves, under the illusion that we will be “accepted” if we compromise, or even sacrifice ourselves.
The lack of trust in a collaborative relationship is a reflection of the lack of trust we have in ourselves–the lack of trust in ourselves that we can say “no” when we need to, the lack of trust that we can honor our integrity to ourselves when social pressure is on.
We have the rights and the freedom to say “no” anytime an arrangement infringes on our integrity or someone challenges our boundaries. It is about being upfront with what is acceptable (to yourself and to others) and having an empowered voice to be clear about the scope of the collaboration, so there is no grey area or fear of winding up between a rock and a hard place.
Being upfront about the scope of a working relationship is not nickel-and-diming. So often women try to avoid a confrontational situation by being vague, evasive or unassertive in money matters. While this may create an illusion of niceness or cooperation in the beginning, if things venture into the grey area, this inability to be clear will lead to a backlash for you and less than optimal results for all parties involved.
Challenges with boundary and voice can show up in many circumstances. Money situations provide a very telling illustration because it is easy to tell when you are exhibiting behaviors that reflect poor boundaries or a disempowered voice–your bottom line and your bank account will let you know.

Strengthen Your Money Boundary

In my business, I use various tools and exercises to help my clients recognize their money boundary challenges. Below is an exercise that I often use:

  1. Write down a situation in which your money boundary is compromised (e.g. discounting your services; deciding in advance that someone can’t afford to pay your fees; bartering; charging less because you are afraid to lose a client, over-delivering in the form of going overtime in sessions or throwing things in that are out of the original scope; delivering services before you get paid.)
  2. Ask: What negative belief about money are you willing to release in order to make a positive impact with this situation? (Your own beliefs bring “charge” to the situation. Money in and of itself, is neutral – it is just numbers in your bank account, or papers in your wallet.)
  3. Ask: If money were sacred to you in this situation, how would you treat and value it?
  4. Write down your new boundary in this situation.
  5. Fill in: the action I will take by [date] is _______________________
  6. Write down: How much money you will save/make by strengthening your boundary in this situation? (Now, are you willing to make the change?)


Empower Your Voice

  1. Write down a situation in which you are afraid to give voice to your value (e.g. stating your fees (or doing so apologetically); negotiating with a vendor; asking that clients pay for your services promptly; saying “no” to discounting or out-of-scope requests from clients; discussing money with your spouse or family; discussing debt; discussing with your spouse about investing in your business.)
  2. In that situation, what are you secretly afraid of? (e.g. rejection, not being approved of, losing love, not being liked, being judged, ending up with nothing)
  3. What if being afraid of [answer to #2] is no longer important to you?
  4. How would you feel?
  5. Who would you be and what action would you take?
  6. What would you say?


Release Your Fears

Often we don’t hold up our boundaries or speak up because of underlying fears.
When we are afraid to speak up in a collaborative relationship, ask for clarification or set up agreements, it could be due to these fears:

  • The Fear of Inadequacy – if you feel like you are not good enough, you don’t have the confidence to challenge others. You may be afraid to ask questions because it may reaffirm your limiting belief that you don’t know enough, or worse, you ARE not good enough.
  • The Fear of being Vulnerable – if you don’t want to appear vulnerable, you may “puff up” and appear that you know it all. You don’t want to ask questions that make you appear not knowledgeable.
  • The Fear of Missing Out – if you are afraid that if you don’t “act now” and get on board the opportunity will disappear – and this fear drives you to make hasty decisions before you have all the facts and review all the documents.

After you recognize your fears, you can see them coming – and it’s not the time to beat yourself up! We all have fears. It’s part of being human. But we don’t have to be controlled by our fears. We can be aware of them, acknowledge them, and release them.
Last but not least, if you have been burned before, it’s time to take responsibility to evaluate where in the process you gave up your voice or exhibited poor boundaries. Letting go of the victim mentality is the first step to empowerment.

Let’s hear from you! What fears have you faced when considering a collaborative relationship? How did you address those fears? Tell us in the comments below.


Ling Wong

Business Artist at Business Soulwork
Ling is an Intuitive Brainiac. Through her unique blend of Business + Marketing coaching with a Mindset + Psychic Twist, she helps the highly creative, intuitive, multi-talented and multi-passionate maverick solo-entrepreneurs distill ALL their big ideas into ONE cohesive Message, nail the WORDS that sell and design a Plan to cut the busywork and do what matters, through her intuitive yet rigorous iterative process born out of her Harvard Design School training and 10 years of experience in the online marketing industry.

Find Ling and grab her free, How to Find YOUR Winning Formula” Training Series, here.




  1. John

    Loved the article. I thought that the part about Empowering Your Voice was the best part. Not enough people do that today. Thanks for the great read.

  2. Stan

    A thoughtful article. Well written.


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