There’s a difference between the coworker who asks for a piece of gum once and the coworker who asks for a piece of gum every single day. The first is asking for a favor—the latter is pulling a jerk move. But how many pieces of gum does a person have to borrow before we make the distinction and irrevocably file that person away in our brains as, “cheapskate who won’t buy his own gum?” According to Relationships Therapist Aida Vazin, it’s a combination of repetition and how much experience you have dealing with people.
“Once we see the pattern repeat itself several times, we automatically register that this person may have a tendency to—for instance—mooch off everyone,” Vazin explains. “However, the exact moment we recognize that this action is, in fact, a pattern depends on our experience with people. Someone with more life experience will often see through a person right away, while others may need to see the pattern repeat several times before they come to a conclusion about a person.” As far as Vazin is concerned, though, a person who has repeated a certain behavior—for instance, asking for a piece of gum—three times or more isn’t likely to stop there, and can thus be defined as a habitual moocher (and a puller of jerk moves).
If you’re afraid that you may be falling into the “jerk” category, don’t fret—Vazin knows how to save your reputation. “Again, I recommend using the rule of three: If three different people say, for instance, ‘Hey, you’re always mooching,’ it’s probably time to pay attention to that and find out what behavioral pattern is sending that message.” Once you’ve narrowed down exactly what you’re doing that’s causing people to think of you as a mooch, Vazin says changing people’s perception of you is easy as proving that you’re capable of different behaviors: Reciprocating all those sticks of gum by lending a helping hand here and there, or buying a new pack of gum from the person you took it from, for instance, will not only show others that you’re capable of more than just being a mooch, but it will also help you break out of that habit.
Turns out, the golden rule of treating others how you’d like to be treated yourself holds up for pretty much any situation.