A friend in need is
supposedly a friend indeed. The essence of having people in your life lies in the support systems they provide, right? There’s comfort in being surrounded by strength in our moment of weakness and the sacrifices we make for each other makes the world go round.
But what happens when friends are always in need and constantly expect you to bail them out? What do you do when a friendship evolves from a satisfying, voluntary connection to a soul-less marketplace where favours are always demanded, expected and traded?
Feeling ‘entitled’ is the belief that you have a justified right to place demands on another’s resources and coming to expect access as a matter of right rather than a privilege. It’s that sense of indebtedness a person holds over another on the basis of the relationship that they have. You may have experienced this or know someone who has. Who knows? You could have been the one acting entitled and demanding ‘rights’ from friends or family members simply because you’re buddies or blood.
So what do you do when a friend consistently makes stretchy demands on resources such as your time, skills, network and yes, your money? Here are four ideas to consider.
1. First, understand the situation.
Are they really acting entitled or are you blowing things out of proportion? Is it a one-time thing or has it become a pattern of behavior? Let’s be honest- at some point, we’ll all need to request favours from friends. There’s nothing wrong with that- as long as it doesn’t become an irritating habit.
Also, how do they handle refusal? Do they consistently give guilt or recall past favours when you don’t oblige a request?
You need to answer this clearly and be honest with yourself; even if you won’t like what you find.
2. Don’t be stingy/selfish.
This is not just about material resources. Do not be stingy with emotional support or other intangible forms of kindness. Be sensitive to a friend’s needs. You don’t need to wait until you’re asked before you offer help.
I used to think, if you really need my help, you will (have to) let go of your uneasiness and just ask for it. Life is teaching me otherwise and I am learning. You don’t have to put people in situations where they have to ask for help when you see they need it. Apart from the obvious point that it’s the kind and thoughtful thing to do, there’s a fringe benefit when it comes to managing entitlement tendencies in friends. Here’s what I mean.
When you offer unsolicited (but needed) help, you lessen the chances of being placed under undue pressure when you do have to hesitate or decline to meet a need. Your friend knows (or should know) that you are a considerate person who just has to say no at this time.
But what if you have tried this and it’s still not working? They want what they want and can’t take no with a good attitude.
3. Redirect them to resources ALREADY within their lives.
There’s a limiting bias that most of us have to deal with at some point. It’s the belief that another person’s resources, relationships and opportunities will completely satisfy our need if only they were ours. So there’s this constant longing and looking out into other people’s lives and wishing to live it (at least the visible, shiny parts).
Help your friend override this bias by identifying resources presently in their space from which they can start out towards the end goal. Say your friend wants to leverage on your relationship to gain access to certain people in your network who they believe can advance their lives in a certain way. But based on your knowledge of both parties, you think this is not a good idea. Probably your friend is not your contact’s ‘type of person’ (you don’t need to say this to your friend; it may come out all wrong.) or you feel the timing on either end is not yet right.
If you look closely, there may be some relationships already in their lives that could get them started along that path. It may not be exactly what they’d prefer but remind them that it is unwise to discard available options (without even trying) while looking out into other spheres for connections. Help them see the value in those existing relationships and encourage further cultivation.
This may not always be sufficient to get the message across and your friend may feel disappointed or even angry. That’s okay- people need time to process refusal. Just make sure you regularly practice the second point above and you guys should be fine.
But what if this still doesn’t work?
4. Have an honest conversation.
You knew this was coming, right? Despite all, you may eventually need to sit for some straight talk with your friend.
There’s a catch though. That honest conversation will produce the best results if it is planned and deliberately initiated. It should not be an outburst of pent up frustration and resentment. In the heat of the moment, thoughtless words can dent the friendship forever.
Talk things over before they degenerate to a scream fest. Be kind but completely honest too. Let your friend know how their requests pressure you in a way you do not want. Emphasize the value of the friendship and if they are receptive, also present the real reason(s) behind your refusal. I have found that people sometimes overestimate our capacity. When they are presented with the realities, most are understanding and graciously back off without ruining the connection. But remember, this conversation should not be reactive. Be proactive about it and preserve each person’s pride , mutual respect and the friendship itself.
Saying no firmly but nicely is a relational skill that must be mastered and the ability to take a no without sulking is a sign of maturity. You guys are matured adults, right?
Friendship comes with its share of interpersonal clashes. And that’s totally fine. Each one must be ready to refine, polish and grow these connections into a more meaningful part of their lives.
And sometimes, that involves recalibrating expectations with a soft smile and a solid refusal.
Live by Design.