Can You Be Too Helpful?

Be forewarned:

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This post is not one in which I (attempt) to impart the limited wisdom I have gained from my life. Instead, it’s a post in which I ask for wisdom from you wise ones.

The Background:

My friend Adam Grant is the youngest tenured professor at Wharton. This means he knows business. (He knows about other things, like magic and diving, but for the purposes of this article let’s focus on the business.) Thus, when he wrote Give and Take, a business book about why we’ve got to give more if we want professional success, folks took notice. The world loves it as much as I do, and ever since I read it I’ve been thinking a lot about what real giving means in business.

But I don’t yet have it figured out. Not by a million years. And I’ve got one burning recent example that I can’t shake. 


I (maybe kinda sorta) have a person in my business life who (I think) is taking too much.

The Situation

This friend appears every few months with an ask for a favor. And that’s fine. We all ask friends for favors on stuff they might be able to help us with. And I do them. And I do them quickly (they are usually time sensitive.) This is not unusual — many of us like being helpful to friends.

But here’s the thing: the last few times I’ve asked for something, this person has gone magically silent. Nowhere to be found. I’ll send my email ask or leave a voice mail, hear nothing, and then resend. Radio silence. And, since we’re friends, I back off. The last thing I want is to be pushy when I’m asking for a favor.

But then, a month later, I’ll get another ask for a favor that he needs.

Now, I’ve though a lot about what could be going on here, and I seem to see a two main options.

  1. The person does a poor job of managing communication and genuinely doesn’t see my asks, even when I resend them. (Read: the person is flaky).
  2. The person unfortunately is more of a taker than a giver. (Read: the person is a taker).

Either option is not great. (Even #1 isn’t fantastic, because surely if the person cared as much as I do about the relationship, he would somehow more easily see my name in his inbox.)

Now, if you want to be a giver in business, you are NOT supposed to take count. This isn’t a game of tit-for-tat. I don’t want to hold out on helping him when I can just because I know the gravy train won’t ever come back to me. (I am not certain that expression works here, so just pretend you didn’t read that if it makes no sense.) Finally, I worry that any conversation about this whole situation would be far too tit-for-tat-ish to be worth anything.

So then what do I do? My M.O. up until this point is to do nothing. And yet it irks me. It does. Oh it does.

What would you do in this situation? Would you hold off on doing the next favor? Would you bring it up? Would you do nothing?


Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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99 thoughts on “Can You Be Too Helpful?

  1. In a generic sense we always serve others best by teaching them how to be self-sufficient rather than dependent on others. But none of us are truly self-sufficient in this civilization so what are the limits and when does someone have a problem? The answers probably lie with the culture at hand and the people involved so there is no global answer I suggest.

  2. I understand. I’ve been in a similar situation. The conflict that would probably ensue with a frank discussion with the taker might not be worth the time and the trouble it would produce. It might be interesting, however, to see what happens if you just ignored him in return. Then if he asked you why, you could tell him. If doesn’t ask you why then you just reduced your work load for the day. You didn’t have to help him or have a frank discussion.

  3. There were too many posts for me to read them all, but my thought is that you need to think hard about what you mean by a “friend”. We use the term very loosely nowadays. Someone who deals with you like this appears to be either an “acquaintance ” or a “business associate”. What is the value of such a “friendship”? What do you lose by being without this person and finding people who will respect your friendship? As IBM used to say THINK.

  4. You shouldn’t stop giving… Giving is the best communication (as a recent viral video says…). You should really talk about it with him. That’s how real friendship works. 😉 Good luck!

  5. Bite me!!!!! Is this article of a query posted by the same person who recently blogged on `06 The Art of Disappointing Others’… !?!?!
    Claire, there are also numerous advisory articles on the Art of saying No…
    Of course, you may choose to say No to my suggestion and continue to perfect the art of disappointing me. )))
    Good luck… I would have been more helpful.. but it would be an ironical paradox to be `too helpful’ when I expect this reply to the query in the article’s title to be the very example of what the perfect answer should be.. )))))))))

    • Sorry I somehow disappointed you, Jason, but honestly I really don’t understand what you’re trying to say in your comment;)

      • hmmm I thot the pun would be obvious.. After penning the Art of Disappointing others, you seek answers on how to balance being helpful and too helpful… so in that way you were able to successfully dsappoint me.. ))) .. and now if were to go out out of my way to be too helpful, I would actually be doing the opposite of what i am trying to say.. for instance. by merely replying to explain, I go a step further in being helpful but if I were to keep explaining further I would ironically become too helpful in helping you figure out the philosophical line of reasoning that might dawn on you sooner or later, depening on the effort you put in, or on how much In persist in going from bieng helpful to too helpful… ))
        PS: You’re sweet and FYI am not in anyway being sarcastic or negative.. (even though my posts may seem tongue in cheek 😛 )… and I always make sure I read your stuff when you post anything that comes to my notice.. Cheers – J

  6. Such a great topic, and phenomenal answers! I think this really comes down to the expectations we silently hold for one another, which get us into trouble and disappointed all the time. I catch myself doing this a lot, and spend a significant amount of my coaching time with others on it, too. Every upset, whether it’s a big one (we’re in a fight or a standoff) or a tiny one (“hmm… that was weird”) breaks down the same way: to an expectation someone had, which didn’t get met. Usually it didn’t get met by someone else. In this case, you had an expectation that when you asked for a favor from this friend, he’d grant it, or at least respond. Your expectation was strengthened by your own choices in demonstrating what you expect of him- granting favors to him. Every time he doesn’t meet the expectation, you’re more disappointed. Yet…
    Here’s the problem: your expectation isn’t one he ever agreed to, acknowledged or may even be aware of (such a thing wouldn’t ever occur to a Taker, and you never articulated the expectation out loud because you didn’t think you needed to- it’s just “the right thing to do”- right?). That doesn’t make him a bad guy, just not one who’s going to meet your expectation unless you make it more explicit (i.e.: the direct conversation so many have suggested). Once you do, you’ll find out that either he’s understood the expectation all along but doesn’t/can’t meet it (ranging from unable to unwilling) or he didn’t really get it before, but now does and can reset with you.
    I find that unarticulated expectations like this are everywhere- we have them for everyone, and often, they don’t get met. Unarticulated? Misunderstood? Unaccepted? Whichever- worth clarifying so you can reset them for yourself. The easiest and saddest way to erode a relationship (I see it a lot) is by allowing these kinds of upsets turn into chronic disappointment with those people, and eventually avoidance.
    I’m happy to report that I’ve seen MANY such relationships turn around by getting these expectations up, out, discussed and agreed upon (or reset completely).

  7. * I did try to post this a few days ago but it didn’t seem to post properly. So if there’s another copy of the post, I’m not deliberately repeating myself 🙂

    I really respect that you are trying to be generous and to think through what it means to do generosity well. I’m still working out what to do with people like that too, but hopefully some of what I have very tentatively come to think will be helpful.

    I think part of why these kinds of things can be tricky is that the concepts of giving and love are closely tied and our society has developed an unhelpful and unhealthy way to think about love. Although we wouldn’t tend to articulate it this bluntly, we often take being loving to mean that regardless of what a person does, you give them what they want and never hold the accountable, disagree with them or otherwise be the cause of them feeling uncomfortable. It’s relatively easy in the short term and feels like you’re being nice, but it can be harmful. I know people who now struggle to function as responsible adults, most likely because growing up they were always given what they want and protected from discomfort.

    I think a more helpful way to think about love as it applies to giving is that it means to seek another persons long-term, overall good, even if it takes sacrifice. Sometimes this means extending yourself to give them what they want. However, sometimes it means not giving them what they want if it is going to reinforce an unhealthy pattern that isn’t in their long term good. Instead love can mean making both of you uncomfortable for the purpose of helping that person with what they really need- to grow, to change, to learn or to quit a bad habit. This is almost always harder than just giving them what they want, but much better for them long term.

    So maybe in your situation, the most loving and generous thing you can do is not to keep giving what they ask or to ignore them without providing rationale but to push through the discomfort of engaging them about how they treat people so they can grow and not repeat the behaviour in other relationships. If everyone has always kept giving them what they want regardless of how they treated people, they may not even be aware that there is a problem with how they act. The important thing here is to keep your approach to them orientated to their good, not how you can benefit more from the relationship or what they owe you for what you’ve done.

    Hope that’s helpful. Let me know if any of it didn’t make sense.

  8. In general I am big on giving and helping others out. However, at times the greatest gift we can give someone is to show them some tough love.

    I would venture a guess and say that for your friend this kind of behavior is a way of life. Therefore you are not the only one with mixed feelings for that person. Most likely there are others that feel the exact same way. Ironically, the offender will have no idea and assumes everything is just fine.

    So if you truly care about the individual then best help to give them is to share with them how his/her behavior makes you feel. Again, chances are the offender has no clue and no one ever brought the matter to his/her attention which is the reason why the behavior continues.

    There are two approaches to address the matter. The direct approach which is not everyone’s cup of tea. Or, a more subtle way.

    If going the subtle way I would suggest the following approach. You mentioned you sent some requests to your friend that have gone completely unacknowledged. So when the next request come to you, you could say….”as you know from my e-mail to you on (date) I am working on xyz project. As soon as I am done with that I will have the time to dedicate myself to your request. Can you respond to the aforementioned e-mail at your earliest convenience? That way I can get to your request much quicker.” This way your friend is in control. If he never responds you have no obligation to help out again, because you made it clear that you need a response first.

    If your request goes un-answered again, but you get a reminder that you have not responded to the latest request it might be time for the direct approach. You’ll have to spell it out and show the offender why the behavior is not acceptable.

    If your friend takes the advice, he’ll be a better person for it and probably respect and appreciate you more than ever. If your friend is offended it was never a friendship to begin with and you are better off without that person in your life. Either way you have clarity and you can move on without having to feel any kind of guilt.

  9. Claire,
    In my view the expression “it’s just business” applies to these situations.

    As Bill mentioned, in business we often have to do business with “takers”. I remind myself it’s not personal. In the end, both the “takers'” selfishness and my generosity will be rewarded in this world or the next…this falls into the GREAT BIG small-stuff category.

    I will, however, at times of high-stress move Taker-requests to the bottom of my to-do list.

    But I still help them because (1) I try to never burn bridges and often Takers are powerful, well-connected, people, which doesn’t seem right but is true, and (2) I really don’t know what’s going on in a person’s private life. Sick child? Declining parent? Divorce? Who knows, I may be the only “friend” our Taker-friend has left or feels like they can depend on in times of stress. I’d hate to turn my back on someone who is hurting or in need, even if they’re a selfish jerk! LOL

    All the best and please feel free to contact me if you ever need anything. 🙂

  10. Wow, what a great set of responses.

    I see some trends here:

    1. Call or meet the person to see what is going on.
    2. Try to be sensitive and see that the other person may be having problems and you have the opportunity to apply for sainthood by continuing to be nice (can you tell I don’t favor that one?)
    3. Tell the person to take a long walk off a short pier either by ignoring him or pushing back to the next request
    4. Look inside yourself to see what is really bothering you about this situation and grow from it
    5. Try to make them respond by replying to the last email when you did them a favor – in other words – point out the problem in a sneaky nice way

    I vote for number one.

    I loved Karen’s story about the reactive behaviors because I specialize in contempt (or at least disdain – which I feel is the lighter version of contempt). I have concluded that this is not healthy for me and have been working on becoming more aware of when I go into that mode. I am working to choose to communicate instead of running the same scenes in my head over and over where I get to tell the person what a jerk they are and prove I am right about everything after all. I have found getting out of my head (with all the sneaky dialogues) and talking about how I feel, then really listening to how the other person feels makes life happier in the long run.

    And sometimes I am surprised to find out that not a single one of my “reasons” for the other person’s behavior was correct. Darn, I am not psychic after all…

  11. Hi Claire.
    If I’m ever in your position, I do not email. I pick up the phone. Or meet them face to face. Emails, text messages and the like are all well and good. But they will never replace proper communication. If I don’t get a response to an email or text, I’m on the phone within 15 minutes. Or in their office! I want to hear their tone of voice. I prefer to see their body language whenever possible. I sometimes do it with a smile, sometimes with a frown, it depends on the situation and the person I’m dealing with. But I TALK to them. For me, nothing will ever replace a good conversation.

  12. Claire,
    About 5 years ago, I instituted a 2 helping hands philosophy. You get my helping hand for the same issue twice and then you have to start looking elsewhere. If you are having the same issue repeatedly, then you need to rethink what you are doing. I realized I had become enabler to some people, by continuously pulling them out of the fire or stepping into vouch for them. 99% of my experience in business and life, people appreciate what you do for them but the other 1% are the people that have become so used to the one sided relationship, that they do not see a need to give back to you. It is similar to helping a relative, especially an older sibling, parent, or grandparent. There are folks who have been supported their whole lives by these relatives,but when the relative needs a little help, they brush it off. They seem to think “You fixed my problems, so you can get yourself out of this one. “

  13. How much do you value your friendship? I agree this should not be a tit for tat situation but you need to deal with the fact that you are uncomfortable being put in this position – make him aware (using assertive language i.e are you aware that etc). Business the same tact would apply but you would change your language slightly as your are dealing with peers and not a friend. Its not difficult and I am sure when you make him aware of what he is doing – the light bulb will go on.

  14. Thanks for writing about this: I just went through it myself.
    So, I told the guy friend: “I consider you a friend, but I’m about 16th on your list and more of an acquaintance. I don’t like it that way: it doesn’t feel good.” I told him we could now treat each others as “neighbors”…wave across the pond, so to speak. There’s more but that’s enough backstory. I “left” it at that and dropped out.
    He, as one will do, got defensive and “told my husband” on me. Even though I told him “this is between you and me”…he didn’t have the “time” to read the whole email. Par for the course.
    Last night at a Meet Up, the speaker did an exercise where the floor was taped in quadrants. 4 Reactive Behaviors were in each one: Defensive, Contempt, [forget the other two]. Long story short, Dene then asked us walk each quadrant & to “feel” each reaction. Stop when we found our own most used reaction.

    Bottom line: the aforementioned chap, as we were going back to our seats, came up to me and said, “I’m sorry, I realize I’ve done all four behaviors w/ you.” I said “Wow, haven’t we all in some fashion! thank you.” I suspect we’re going to get the ‘fence’ mended eventually.

    1. You are not the chap’s therapist.
    2. You don’t have to understand his behavior
    3. You don’t have to like the way it makes you feel
    4. You get to leave the “friendship.”
    5. Entitlement is unattractive
    6. You aren’t doing him any favors by suffering in silence: it will come out anyway, in some way.
    7. You get to have your feelings.
    8. You get to do something about it, thereby taking your power back
    9. “No” is a complete sentence.
    10. Whatever you do will probably be better than nothing. We already are smart enough to know my friend and yours, don’t know these feelings, hence, they only hurt us.
    11. And, some do know…and like you said, are takers.
    12. Take care of you and let the chips fall where they may.

  15. Agree with other comments that if it irks you, taking action (rather than a passive approach) will help you feel resolved about the issue. When you speak with this person, my suggestion is to do so from a position of positive intent, and to ask questions so you can understand where things may have fallen down (on their end). You could follow-up to your last request of this person, and ask ” hey, I wanted to check in with you… I sent you an e-mail a few weeks ago about so-and-so. Is everything OK?” In the end, actions speak louder than words. However, its always worth giving people the benefit of the doubt – because, that what I think most of us would like for other to do for us.

  16. Claire,

    I understand…and feel bad for you. I suspect many of us have faced similar challenges with our friends in life and business. I know that I have a bad habit, when help and support seems unbalanced, to keep tally sheets. The problem is that “counting” the number of times I have willingly helped others only serves to make me feel guilty.

    You have many wise friends that have written back to you….and, they have provided lots of great advice. You are making an incredible difference in the lives of many, many people. And, all because you are willing to give…often without any return. I know how tempting it is to finally say to a “taker” that I can’t help any more. But, I’m betting that if you walked away, you would feel just as frustrated with yourself…as you now feel with your friend.

    My advice…stay the course. You have a great gift that you share with so many people. It motivates drives you…it fulfills you in many ways, I suspect. Don’t lose that Claire.

    Thank you for all you do.

    • I have a friend similar to this. He is naurally selfish. When I feelthat I am giving more than I am getting, I do back off. I fail to return his phone calls, I don’t call him and then he gets all up-in-arms. What’s going on – Is there someone else. Because he is not a young man but he is still a very handsome silver fox, I have come to understand that this has worked for him all of his life. The thing is, it’s not working for me. I subscribe to the following: While we cannot control how a person treats us initially, we can control how we allow them to treat us. So, do unto your friend as he does unto you and then he’ll get a taste of his own medicine.

  17. I have been a therapist for over three decades. My rule of thumb is that when you are consistently working harder than the other person in the relationship, then it’s time back off. That doesn’t mean you quit being friendly but it means you no longer go out of the way to meet their needs.

  18. i was going to add my two cents but these people have said everything there is to say… this seems to be a common problem that cuts across all kinds of lines….you are indeed fortunate to have collected a group this big of such thoughtful people together sharing their thoughts on this topic….thank you for bringing this issue up…….

  19. If you don’t show him what he is doing he will never have the opportubnity to change, and you may lose a friend. Next time consider making it obvious to him by quickly telling him the time element it might take and ask for a return favor at the same time. Make your request a little more taxing on his time than his. Using this as an example can help to start a more constructive conversation.

  20. I can imagine that this feels like a complex and difficult problem. On a more basic level it is a simple question of honesty towards yourself. You say it irks you, so it doesn’t sit well. This means that ignoring the situation, and thus maintaining it, wil deteriorate you’re friendship with this person. The next time you hear from him you will feel a certain amount of friction.
    If you just stop doing favors for this person I don’t think it would solve you’re irksomeness. You would still feel the underlying friction, every time you interact. The only sound solution then seems: Talk it out. Be honest and non judgemental, but talk it out.

    Good luck

  21. I gave this quite some thought and really there are things here that need to be addressed. The most important I think is the value of that friend to you, for example I have a friend that I might not see from one year to the next, but if they picked up the phone I would be there for them as this is the value of their friendship to me, I am not sure that this would be the case if it was me asking for the help though!
    If we look at this from a strictly business point of view, I belong to BNI who’s motto if you like is ‘Givers gain’ I give you help/business to you in order that you reciprocate, though again this is sometimes simply not the case.
    This situation would play on my mind also and this is where it IS worth concentrating I think. If you are feeling used and abused, is this person truly a friend or just a free loader, taking advantage of your good nature? Better (if this is the case) to decline to help them in future rather than have it ‘hanging over you’. I have had to make this decision occasionally and yes it feels awkward, but you cannot carry someone elses problems, we all want to help others, but there is a point where it becomes obvious that we may be doing more than helping and this is where the line should be drawn, before the day it all blows up. A great business advisor I know always says ‘ don’t carry someone else’s monkey!’ and this is the best advice I ever received. Hope this helps a little – P

  22. Friendships and relationships are both reciprocal, and cannot be maintained without a sense of equilibrium. I relate to the scenario through similar circumstances encountered in my own life whereby I found myself devoting a lot of time and energy to maintaining a friendship/relationship when the other party would never engage. Personally I handle these situations in accordance with my belief that friendships/relationships should be mutually beneficial, and with the ideology that you treat others how you wish to be treated yourself. I begin to mirror the other party in both ignorance and selfishness, dismissing their requests for help whilst inundating them with requests of my own. It’s surprising how quickly they acknowledge the imbalance, at which point I apologise but remain aware that they are definitely perceptive of the required equilibrium. I see this as a methodology for engaging their empathy, as moving forward, I can then use this point of reference to remind the other party of the need for balance should I feel they are taking liberties once more.

  23. Since the guilt of not doing something bothers you, give in to the giving, but set a limit. That way, you leave some room for your sanity and peace.

  24. Hi claire!
    read your post ….what i felt is a) may be your friend is not in a condition to return favors… but in a circumstances where he needs loads of them. b) secondly the case could be different like i read in one of the comments he is not interested in returning favors and takes you for granted who would hep him any ways. So i believe the best solution is to speak face to face and make things clear, as we know ” friend in need is a friend indeed” sure are a friend indeed but its not vice versa. Helping is one of the best thing one can do for somebody but its stressful when u really need help and theirs no helping hand. just have a check on ur so called friend.

    Good luck!

  25. I would be honest with your friend and just talk about it, if you guys are truly friends you should be able to discuss anything!

  26. I think he/she is no fool and is just using you.
    Two ways to go I see:
    1. radio silence (next time he/she comes asking, just do not be available, or just procrastinate)
    2. tell him/her to cross the ocean, walking

  27. Dear Claire,
    greetings for the day,
    1. I envy you for being so fortunate to be ‘helpful’. Remember Claire, there is more happiness in giving and as told by anonymous in Hindi ” Neki kar Kuen mei Dal”.
    2. Please don’t misjudge your friend, because he may not be so fortunate as you are :). If your friend is Adam Grant, please treat him with some extra favors because he is not known and acknowledged like you but wants to be one :).
    3. You can always shake him up (if he is a close friend, which I feel he is) to reply stating that he is not in position to address your need.
    4. Please do not stop responding because as a friend is defined world over: A friend is one who is so true that you do not expect him to thank you for your favors but you expect him to be critical of all your posts so as to ensure that nobody else in the world over, criticize your posts.
    warm wishes and still envying you for your fortuitous attitude :),

  28. I was in a similar situation some years ago. It reached a point where I felt angry with this person alk the time because it was so one sided. So I took her to lunch and told her how I was feeling. It was a cordial conversation, but difficult for me. The response I got was “this is how I am, and I’m not going to change. ” s
    So I realized my expectations were unrealistic and that I should not expect reciprocity from her. And I stopped feeling angry. The moral of the story is that your expectations in a relationship may not be the same as the other persons. If you feel angry that this person is not responding to you and it’s a relationship that’s important to you, I would have the talk. If you tell your coworker what you want, then you are in a better position to decide what to do if you don’t get what you want. But you leave the door open to keeping a cordial relationship with the other party, when it you side to stop doing favors for the user. There needn’t be a quid pro quo every time, but everyone is entitled to feel appreciated and valued for her kindnesses to others.

  29. Hi Clarie

    I think life is more of give than take. Consider a child who always seeks your attention, he needs a favor every now and then. Like wise people around, because of the relationship you share with them they tend to be taking you for granted when they need a favor for themselves and they may just turn a blind eye when you need it from them. So it totally depends upon how you have nurtured the relationship. Now here I close my comment by continuing my example: Lets say with the same child in the very first favor sought you make him realize to be grateful and teach him that he has to give it back some day in some form. Thereafter the relationship takes that frame of give and take. Otherwise it will always be imbalanced.

  30. Claire, you are unequivocally one of the brightest, most compassionate and dynamic authorities in the world of using social media for good. I hesitantly will chime in because of my immense respect for you. There are already many good responses. I offer another possible perspective. The other person may be dealing with circumstances and issues which challenge their ability to focus and reciprocate. They may be barely hanging on while projecting a confident, successful air to you and others. This portrayal may not be probable but it is possible. I generally assume everyone with whom I come into contact is dealing with a difficult situation; some of which are overwhelming. Others have offered pragmatic, wise, advice including talking with the fellow. If the favors he is asking of you are time-consuming and imposing, you may well need to undertake an elegant, yet direct conversation. If the requests are fairly simple, you may want to stay your course. I am MUCH older than you and the years have shown me that not much about life is balanced. If I worry about giving based on what I will get back, I’m disappointed repeatedly. Giving, of my time, money or talents without expecting anything in return, makes me feel good about myself. When I attempt to “not be pushed around” as is the automatic default, I end up feeling at odds with my values.

  31. Claire,
    I believe in speaking up with this person. I also believe in asking for what one wants in life a) if this relationship is important to you; and b) do you think you’ll feel better once you voice your opinion? If neither are relevant, that this person is not worth your time. Politely walk away.

    Have you also heard of the book called, “Love is the new Killer App”? Its on that same premise about giving more in business than you receive, and about being gracious first. I think the author is Tim Sanders.

  32. Claire, I think you may have done such a splendid job at being the expert, so it is no wonder people approach you for help. On the other hand, being approached by an expert can be intimidating for some people – they may not know how to handle a request for fear that it is some kind of test. Take a look at this relationship and explore if there is inadvertent intimidation at work that can stop this person from genuinely being helpful for fear of saying the wrong thing.

  33. Hey Claire,

    I read your post and I definitely can relate. I’ve worked with people like this in the past and it can be a mental drain. If I were in your shoes, there are two ways I would approach the situation:

    1. Confront the person directly. Tell them how you are feeling and let them know that you feel as though they are constantly ignoring your requests for help while you are happy to oblige any time he/she needs a favor.

    2. Stop doing favors for that person. It shouldn’t require an explanation. Unfortunately some people need to learn the hard way and perhaps the next time they need something and you aren’t there, they will realize they were taking you for granted.

    Both are not “easy” solutions, and personally I lean towards number one because without confronting the issue, the individual on the other end might not know it exists. Hope this helps!


  34. Hi Claire,
    In this world there are givers and takers, and this friend of yours appears to be more of a taker than a giver. Nonetheless, it is the giver who is the nobler of the two, and this is always so true. But for every giver there is also the taker, otherwise, there would be no one to give to. As transactions go, it would be nice if there is give and take, but sometimes this would not be the case.

    In my humble opinion, maybe if I was in your shoes, I might sort of give that friend the benefit of doubt that he might have difficulty in communicating with, except when he needs a favor. But I would also perhaps drop a hint in my next email, when I did that favor, that perhaps he could keep me in his communication chain. Just a smidge of hint, not too much.

    Hope my comments helps…

  35. Hi Claire,

    As always, I enjoy reading your posts for their insight and transparency. Others have already left you sound advice, but I thought I’d throw in my two cents. You talk a lot about weaving your image throughout all your forms of social media, and you do a great job of that. You are an innovative leader. One thing that sets great leaders apart is transparency and purposeful communication. In the case of your “friend,” I would suggest having an honest chat with him about your perpective regarding his behavior. Do so openly and humbly. You may find out that there is more to the story than you knew. If not, and he gets upsets at your honest communication, then he was probably not the friend you thought he was…and at least he’ll stop asking you for favors. If he can accept your gentle criticism and make a course correction, then your friendship will likely become stronger than it was before. Either way, it’s win/win and you can stop worrying about it. I hope this helps and best wishes as you decide what course of action to pursue. I’m sure you’ll make the right call. If you do decide to talk to him, it’d be great if you’d let us all know how it turned out!

  36. Hi Claire

    One thing that I’ve read (I’m sorry, I can’t remember where) that has helped me frame reciprocal agreements subtly without placing overt expectation on the other party while still being able to help (assuming I have the time, resources and interest) is to include “I’m sure you’d do the same for me” when they thank you. This helps set up in their head that the expectation is there, but not directly as a tit for tat.

    Barring that, I think Matthew’s suggested follow up was an excellent one.



  37. As a PR Guy, I work with lots of people in a multitude of industries. My two main focal points, today, are Medical Equipment Sales and Entertainment. As a Salesman, I am a hero today and a goat tomorrow. The memory lifespan of a surgery center in need is short, but it is nowhere near the ridiculousness of the using and taking that I see in entertainment. It is the vanity of vanities. But what do I do when they take without giving or recognition? We cannot deny others the gifts that God gave us. To do so would be an injustice to ourselves and others. But we can move on, push forward and keep doing what we do to make the world a better place. Because, as sure as I sit here, I will see them again, and they will realize, that it wasn’t worth it for them to take advantage of me, or even try to. It all comes back in the end, especially if we stay true to ourselves, focused on what is in front of us and continue to do good work… Move on Claire, and say nothing but wish them well. It isn’t worth the time – I know – I see it every day. I will not be discouraged by others with limited vision!
    Finally, Small minds talk about people, average minds talk about events and Great minds discuss ideas!
    You are a great minded individual! Do not get bogged down by the small minded in this world!!!

  38. Claire,
    I have yet to encounter a lack of communication issue that cannot be corrected with direct and timely communication. That said; always approach with kindness and a smile on your face, if you are rejected then reject remorse and move on.

  39. Claire, You’ve received some thoughtful responses. When you ponder all of these, remember who you are.
    Remember your big heart and consider what you already knew inside there. BTW Bill’s spot-on in my opinion.

  40. From your description of this person’s m.o., reasonable efforts to repair or resolve this situation strike me as doomed. It’s not you. It’s him. However, rather than ignoring his next request – and giving him something to complain about – I suggest this modest hack: a simple “away from the office/on vacation” message. Repeat as needed. if you’re incommunicado, you’re Teflon. And free.

    Alternatively, a mutual friend could send him the link to this thread, subject line: “Wow! Can you believe this Asshat that’s been bothering Clare?”

  41. Hi Claire,
    Great post and some excellent responses. From my limited knowledge of you, my suggestion would be honesty. WHEN he asks for a favor, respond with a note stating that you’re glad to hear that he does still have email / twitter / etc, noting how he had gone silent when you had asked him for a favor in kind. You’ll want to note, too, that this was not the first time, that you’ve noticed that a pattern has emerged in the “relationship” and honestly, it makes you feel used / badly. Then wait to see if he goes silent again, or if he offers some insight into where he’s coming from.
    Then be prepared to take action, kick the dust off your shoes, so to speak; life is too short and there are a myriad of folks who genuinely appreciate you and what you do.
    Take care and be blessed!

  42. Claire,

    It is hard to offer advice without knowing more about this person. Does this person seem to behave this way with everyone? If so, could it be that he is unaware of his actions and how they affect others? Are his actions driven by a lack of caring or a lack of knowledge of social protocol? Either way, we have limited time and there are likely a lot of other more interesting and valuable friends out there. As venture capitalist Charlie O’Donnell once wrote in a blog post on making lists, list of 5 people that you want to become friends with and 5 people that you feel you are supposed to be friends with and you are going to unfriend/disconnect/ignore. Thanks for the tweet last year for my article on the Future of Giving in Forbes. I follow your great work because of it.

  43. Hi Claire,
    There’s plenty of good advice, but as you’ve recognised, Matthew has a wise approach to ensure you are both subtle and gracious.

    That said, I’d make sure that the next ask is not via email. Get on the phone, or if possible, meet face to face. Yes, it’s a hard conversation, but much more effective and valuable face to face (or on the phone) that trying to handle via email or by changing your behaviour and hoping they get the message.

    Of course they might have read this blog and already be well aware of what’s going on!

    Seriously though, the friendship will benefit in the long term much more by a conversation to clear the air than avoiding the situation. It doesn’t have to be confrontational … pointing the finger. Make sure it’s about what you’ve observed (“I was surprised not to hear back from you about xyz…”) not ‘personal’ criticism (“I’m disappointed you didn’t respond to my last 2 requests”). Check out the work of Susan Scott for more about the art of difficult conversations.

  44. I would go just as silent and invisible to him as he is with you. Find someone that understands what a real relationship is to invest yourself into. Don’t waste any more time, effort, or thought on this guy.

  45. Some of the comments remind me of my father’s community work. He believes that a “healthy” taker will want to give in return, somehow. So when he helps someone receive a scholarship, or lends something to a neighbor, he is already thinking how to help them even out the playing field – what can he ask them to contribute to the relationship, so they aren’t left feeling just “needy” but instead they are also resourceful.

  46. If you care about the relationship call them out on it the next time they ask you for a favor. “Hey you never got back to me on that thing I sent over?” This lets the person know you noticed their inaction but gives them a chance to redeem themselves.

    If you do not care about the relationship go radio silent on them. Understand you will probably not hear from them anymore.

  47. Hello Claire,

    When I choose to help others, I consider my a help a gift and expect nothing in return. I don’t lend books, I give them away. I’ve made the mistake of lending money, only to regretfully have to perform collections.
    I prefer these days to give gifts.
    If a friend is continually asking for my help, books, cash, free consulting, etc… I would speak with them about their requests / demands and perhaps spend time with other friends.
    Or I would simply say NO!

    Stay Beautiful…

  48. A long time ago when people would ask me to loan them $5 because they forgot their wallet and needed lunch (told you it was a long time ago) or they would need a few bucks for this or that. I would loan money to them and then forget to ask for my money back, Often they would “forget” to pay me back too. Then I met Mark and when people asked him for $5, he would give them a $100. I doubt he ever forgot and the borrower never forgot either. So he always got his loan back.

    Maybe the key is to do enough of a favor or give enough that the person will not be able to ignore or forget. So make it big when you care, and keep it small when you do not.

  49. You need to speak in person to “Bob”. “Bob, I am glad you call upon me to help you out form time to time. I really enjoy helping you out. But lately, it’s been one-sided. You haven’t responded or helped me on XXX, YYY, or ZZZ. What gives?” Then listen to Bob’s reply. Bite your lip if needed, but let hiom speak his mind for a bit.

  50. The fact that this is on your mind does not make you a tit-for-tat person. The ‘art’ of doing business is meeting new people and testing if we can work well with them …

    In this case, I would ignore them, as they do you. If you have any faith that the person has a head on their shoulders, you will know that 1) they are using you intentionally and 2) they will move on to the next person to do this to.

    When you do eventually meet up with them, just smile and nod.

  51. Hi Claire,

    I complete agree with Bill. I’m somewhat like you, in that I’ll give if I can; it can be disappointing when people don’t reciprocate, even though you don’t ask often.

    I think that the next time your colleague asks for a favour, let him know that you’re on it, but that you want to speak to him about something as well. People tend to respond to criticism or comment better if they’re also getting something that they want (look up ‘praise sandwich’).

    Good luck 🙂

  52. Claire,
    We all have boundaries to live by in our daily lives. I personally keep a very short leash on making sure boundaries (give & take) stay in check. You can not care more about a relationship than the other person does. You can . . . but it’s not healthy and boundaries tend to get out of control. Franklin Covey has a great concept of “Seek first to understand and then be understood”. I would definitely bring it up and not budge until you get a satisfactory answer . . . and then set expectations for moving forward.

  53. You have to address it.

    You’re obviously dealing with a taker. You know that from thinking about this, and then writing this blog post.

    In my experience, if you have a brutally honest conversation with someone like this, they literally don’t understand people who are givers. They can’t view a situation or relationship without thinking, “How can this person help me? What can I ask this person to do that will further my own career/goals.” And, they NEVER think, “Wow, what can I do for Claire” or “Claire has been helpful to me on multiple occasions, I’m going to be super responsive if she EVER asks me for help.”

    You’re dealing with a user and taker, and it needs to be addressed. Or, if conflict isn’t your thing, ignore any future emails.

    If it were me, I’d probably respond via an email to his next request. It would be sharply worded and would explain that you genuinely look to help people who are friends and colleagues. And, you do that with no expectation of quid pro quo whatsoever. Yet. if you do ask for a favor, you certainly don’t expect to have your emails simply ignored. And for him to ask, yet again, for another favor with zero acknowledgement of your requests for help is the height of rudeness.

  54. Life is a dance. Reciprocity is the key. Unfortunately, there are very few relationships where someone doesn’t disappoint someone else sooner or later. Here’s a thought that may help. Do unto others as you wish they had done unto you. You can’t go wrong with that.

  55. I was leaning to burning the bridge and moving on until I read Matthews post. Spot on Matthew!

    Like many I would question the value of the relationship. As we grow and advance we sometimes outgrow our “friends”. I know there are many in my past that are living a life I no longer wish to live so I have moved on. I would suggest that if Matthews approach does not work out I would let your friend know that you will not help this time and share why. Some people have no idea how their behavior appears until we give them the gift of feedback.

    Be Well,

  56. Claire,
    As a recovering taker, I think your friend needs a kick in the rear. You’ll be helping him in the long run. If you keep doing favors, he’ll keep asking. I think you need to instill a little shame so that he either starts to cough up some giving or it’s too uncomfortable to ask you for favors anymore. So…
    the next time he calls/emails asking for a favor, you let his request slide by you and just say, “Wow, I was just thinking about you! When you didn’t reply to my emails a while back, I was concerned. Is everything ok?” Stay on that topic for a while. Tell him what you had to do since he didn’t reply. Tell him you were disappointed. He SHOULD be ashamed, right? Why protect him from shame.

    Yes, it’s manipulative. So is his ignoring your requests. He may be disorganized, but c’mon. If you didn’t reply to HIS requests, you bet he’d suddenly be organized enough to followup with you.

    My 2 cents. Good luck and thanks for the thought provoking topic.


  57. Tell your friend that you a) value his friendship and b) welcome the occasional opportunity to be of some help. But, you’re confused by his lack of responsiveness when you ask for his assistance. Is there a problem? Let’s talk this out, so we can continue to enjoy our friendship.

  58. Hey Claire,
    I actually struggle with this a-lot. I rarely say no when people ask for help, and I find it very rewarding in most cases. What I find difficult is the “give without expecting anything in return” mentality. How I deal with it now is that I listen to my intuition. If I feel like this person is abusing the help that I give, and it is bugging me enough to distract me from what’s really important such as preparing for some job interview or getting ready for an important meeting, than I usually cease helping this person. I think you should trust your intuition if it is truly bothering you enough to disrupt your thoughts. Thank you for posting this, this issue really resonated with what I have to deal with often!

    Oh and I really liked your “how to create peace in stress” post. Your blog is awesome, keep up the awesome posts!


  59. In the well connected world of today with multiple options of connectivity, it may be worthwhile to give your friend , the benefit of he/she not having seen the relevant mail ( as the inbox is often cluttered with trash and missing out on a mail or it inadvertently getting “trashed ” is not unlikely ). In such a case, give him a call and ask him if he has seen yr mail. If not, tell him it is being resent and u would appreciate a response , even if negative. Send him the mail again and await response. A confirmatry SMS can be sent to draw his attention to the re-sent mail. He should respond, since u hv given him the option of not being able to give u what u want.
    If he responds , pos or neg, your friend cares, and therefore replies.
    If he does not respond inspite of the abv, she /he is perhaps too shy to respond with a “NO”, perhaps?

    A similar treatment could be repeated , on one more occasion to assess the level of response and his/ her interest in yr friendship.
    It is important to communicate,both ways.

    In respect of giving, my credo is: give help ( or whatever ) if you can without expecting any thing in return from the same person. It is not worth wasting time brooding over what u have done for someone inspite of she/he not responding . If u are a giver , your requirement of help will be met by someone in the circle of friends.

  60. I think you should be the bigger person here and keep helping you. I am just 20 today but I know that I should have expectations from people because they can hurt you at times and you don’t want to be vulnerable. That being said, don’t be a hard ass and try to tackle the world alone. Definitely ask for help when you need but don’t expect people to treat you the way you treat them.

  61. Listen to your inner voice. If it leaves you feeling like you’re being used, you are being used. It’s a passive-agressive behavior to ask someone else to do something for you, with no intention of ever repaying the kindness. Don’t ignore the request, simply say “No, I don’t think I will, but thanks for thinking of me.”

  62. My opinion is a much more simple one. If they are in your life for business reasons then you are not a good business person as it relates to this entity. They take and give nothing to little back. If you were to lay your business relationship out on a spreadsheet it would be highly unbalanced which is never good unless it it highly unbalanced in your favor.
    Thus in turn creating a vicious cycle of unbalanced relationships since you will naturally try to make it up somewhere.
    I have not read your friends book but I would hope there is a breaking point on when the returns need to start to come back otherwise having unbalanced business or personal relationships will ultimately fail.
    First post ever!

  63. I think the intent behind giving is to increase the net sum of good available to us all in the world. One-way giving does not achieve that, it merely shifts a good from one place to another. Find better people and places in which to invest your giving and your goods and help grow our overall wealth.

  64. These are all such thoughtful answers. I like to think I’d respond like that. But what I might really do is, next time he asks for a favor, ignore him just like he ignored me. And see how he responds. And then do that back to him.

    Do I sound like a fourth grader yet?

  65. I would pick up the phone and ask your friend what gives. If it bothers you that much and he is truly a friend it is time to have a real time conversation about it.

  66. Is this person so important to you that you would let that person to continue to take advantage? Are you trading off that importance or some power that person has over you to let this one-way relationship continue? If the relationship is worth keeping, then you need to set limits.

  67. Hi,
    This is always difficult to navigate because what seems a reasonable request from a person seeking out a favor may be considered quite the imposition by the one expected to reciprocate.
    The situation calls for a little wisdom. Is the person who is expected to behave as a friend truly a friend, or is this just a casual acquaintance? It is important to separate the two, so as to not have unrealistic expectations. A true friend might drop his/her plans to accommodate a perceived friend’s dilemma; but a casual acquaintance should not be expected to reciprocate in the same fashion. The relation just doesn’t call for that level of intimacy and trust.
    I am amazed at how many people expect a high level of reciprocity to suit their agenda, when clearly that is not the type of relationship which has been established. Only you can know whether or not a suitable response is in order; however, without knowing many more of the details it is difficult to gauge if this is just be the type of person who uses everybody around him/her as a sponge: to mop up after him/herself, squeezing dry, and conveniently placing on a shelf until next time they need the tool. That is not the hallmark of a friend.

  68. Hi Claire
    I think I would take a little time to review why it is that I consider this person to be a friend. It could be that clarifies your thoughts.

  69. A primary difference between givers and takers isn’t altruism, contrary to that one might think. All of us have self-interest, we just have different cycle lengths.

    Takers operate on short cycles; givers play the long game. In exchanging favors, takers think “what have you done for me lately?” and givers think “I’ve been there for you for a long time and asked little in return.” Givers want reciprocation someday – takers have much shorter memories. So as a giver, remind your taker that they owe you.

    • Make your ask as a reply to the email that delivered your latest favor, or where they acknowledged your latest favor.
    • Start a new ask by following up on a recent favor you did for them.
    • Do something unsolicited that they will perceive as particularly thoughtful, helping them recall how helpful you have been on multiple occasions.

    The goal here is to be subtle and gracious – so that even if they see what you’re doing, they appreciate your finesse.

    And if they still don’t respond to your request, change it up – be too busy or lacking in resources to do the next things that they ask you to do. After all, if they don’t have the decency to reciprocate, they probably don’t appreciate your help, either. Let them find another patsy.

    • Wow Matthew — These are three incredibly helpful tips. I’d love you to write a guest post if you ever had any time. It’s SO interesting what you say at the end, “After all, if they don’t have the decency to reciprocate, they probably don’t appreciate your help, either” because I *absolutely* sense that with this person. When I do the favors, I barely get a nod. So, so interesting.

  70. The essence is the other party isn’t being reciprocal! I wouldn’t let tit for tat bother me if I was getting nothing in return-explore reciprocal relationships with others!

  71. Claire,

    This is a very common situation in business and in life. With a family member or a close friend, let’s say, one can justify giving or doing more than another because the relationship usually extends for a long period of time, and may have several periods of give-and-take that go both ways. However, in business where the expectation is that value is exchanged between two parties, there is a more acute need to address the reason(s) for your colleague’s silent treatment when you need a favor. You may want to say something like, “Hey ___. Can you tell me what was going on when I asked you for ___? I’m feeling a little hurt about not getting an acknowledgement of my situation when I know your perspective (or actions) could have really helped… I value your friendship and business relationship enough that I’ve gone out of my way to help in situations like these . Can you help me understand what was happening?”

    If he’s a taker, and it sounds like he is, you’ll know right away… And you have every right to say that you don’t feel that’s the proper way to continue a business relationship. Your time and perspective are very valuable (your thoughtful and insightful blogs are good examples) and he needs to have more appreciation for that 🙂 Good luck!


    • Thanks Bill — that makes a ton of sense. I see the need as much more acute in business for sure, and hence the need to address it;)

      • “The person unfortunately is more of a taker than a giver. (Read: the person is a taker).”
        Claire, you have already made the decision by calling him “the person”. As the wise (and fictitious) Oracle in the Matrix would say, you just need to understand your decision.
        If you ever understand it let us know.