I like being helpful. I’ve gone out of my way to help friends and, one , I actually got up at 4 AM to attend a 6 AM meeting, all to help a teacher I worked with.

Problem is, once you start helping folk, they start expecting you to be available – and that sucks. You start feeling more like a piece of meat being fought over by competing vampire clans or something. Worse yet, people start lending you out with “oh she’ll be happy to come over to help you”.

You end up thinking “when did I stop being a helpful friend (or colleague) and start being a voiceless tool?”

It can be irritating, humiliating and insulting. Worst of all, it eats your self-esteem, unless you can make a game of finding ways to refuse being used without saying the word “no”.

It took time, but I eventually found the challenge entertaining and enlightening. Applying my own sick sense of humor softened my opinion of those who had come to see me as more tool than human. They’re still users, but dealing with them stopped ruining my day.

Once people assume your birth certificate says “doormat” where your name should go, you’ll need to refuse and keep users from mounting attacks on your worthiness. or triggering their sudden astonishment at your having other plans for your life.

Most of them want an explanation when they hear that flat out “no”. It’s their trigger, so you need a good way to refuse without using the trigger word. Here are a few I’ve found successful.

Creative Delay Tactics

1.Try a conditional yes, saying that you can do the favor, but your user must replace your lost time, in kind. A difficult maneuver but this quid pro quo can stop some users in their tracks. Before executing this maneuver, you have some ideas of how you might accept your time’s being replaced. It’s easy to do in babysitting circles and car pools, but less so with other favors.

2. The “wait your turn” strategy does two things. It lets them know that they are not the center of your universe and that your memory works quite well, thank you very much! You remind them of the last favor you did for them, then leave the impression that you have people lined up in your incomplete favors column.

You needn’t lie. Just list tasks you’ve put off. Use this variation on “today’s not your day, and tomorrow isn’t looking too good, either”.

3. “I did x for you on (insert time or date). I’m working on (insert project) for (insert role). Unfortunately, you’ll have to wait until I can clear my list.” They’ll then ask how long you think it will take, and that’s when you say you have no clue…it could take a couple of months.

 

Honesty with an Ego Bruising

4. Sometimes you can’t easily finesse a refusal. Not a fun moment, but sometimes you have to get serious. When that happens a heartfelt, emotional statement may be your best bet. Your honesty, spoken with all the kindness in the world, will probably still hurt their feelings, a bit. Just remember that you have every right to put your needs first when a charming user tries to make you feel guilty, or cruel.

A good phrase? “I had to stop doing favors like (insert the favor being asked) because it left me depressed for weeks (or months) afterward…”

That’s the truth. Putting your needs second to theirs leaves your self-esteem battered, triggering . Adding “I hope you’ll understand” may ease the sting of your honesty, but may also let them off the hook, which you may not want…just sayin’.

If you aren’t comfortable with that, you can always fall back to “I’ve already committed to (insert commitment), and can add nothing else before finishing (that commitment).

Make Them Work for it

5. Responding with a question can change a user from irritating leech (was that my outside voice?) to cooperative problem solver. Try telling them you already have 3 to 50 other tasks, events or goals in the works, then ask when they suggest you insert their favor. Letting them join the heavy lift may open their eyes. Also, each suggestion they make is an opportunity for you to launch a soliloquy on the virtues surrounding your current goals and scheduling habits.

I know that’s slightly demonic but….

time spent doing this can encourage them to think, and hopefully consider your feelings, before asking for future favors. If they believe they may face this exercise each time they ask a favor of you, they might stop, or at least trim their expectations.

Charge Them

Extreme users ask for favors that you normally get paid for. My sons ran into this problem several years ago.

My sons are geniuses when it comes to anything with an engine or motor. One modified a standard remote control car, making into a low rider complete with hydraulic-like shocks and switches, years before commercial versions hit the market. He was in middle school at the time. Just this year, his brother built a Harley by buying parts online, cleaning and reconditioning them, then piecing the bike together in his garage…and the bike runs!

Like I said…geniuses.

People started asking them for auto repair “favors” all over the place, a few years back. When my sons started quoting prices, the requests disappeared, giving my sons the peace they enjoy.

6. “Unfortunately, I’ll have to charge you for that”, is one of my favorite responses for those who ask me to write for them as a “favor”.

When they object with reasons akin to “you have no right”- for whatever reasons they may give, remind them that time is money and that doing their favor uses your time, and you cannot live without that time’s being reflected in your bank account, as is your policy with clients.

However, be forewarned; this maneuver can kill a friendship, so when they ask how much their favor may cost, use your judgment. The more inconvenient the favor, the higher the price tag.

Balancing your natural helpfulness is difficult, especially when a usurious friend gives you the big puppy-dog eyes. It’s good to help, but you can’t let that derail your own forward momentum. Instead of dreading an inevitable verbal joust, execute a secretly humorous tactic and see what happens. Take notes, ‘cuz there’s a book in there, somewhere!

 

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