Are you a nice person, someone who enjoys doing favors for others? You’re the one they call to volunteer at your synagogue or church, to take a friend to the doctor, or to help a friend in need. Kindness is a wonderful virtue. And it should come with a big caution sign, because if you enjoy giving to others, there are always going to be some people who take advantage of your good nature.
What happens when a small favor, the ‘FIRST ASK’, becomes a much BIGGER favor? I call this the ‘SECOND ASK’.
Here’s an example:
There’s a woman I’ve known for over twenty years. We’re not the best of friends, but I feel close to her. We’ve been through major life events together. But lately, the only time she seems to call is to ask a favor. I was beginning to feel resentful.
Recently, she asked me to help her pick out some antique chairs for her dining room. I’m an artist, and I enjoy decorating, so I was happy to do this for her.
I quickly helped her select the best chairs for her dining room, she purchased them, and then came the SECOND ASK. Wait for it…
“Would you mind taking the chairs home and reupholstering them for me?”
Say what? She knew I had reupholstered my dining room chairs, and she figured it would be no problem for me to redo hers. It’s one thing to be valued for a skill, and it’s another to have an acquaintance ask you to do a huge job with no compensation. I was shocked at the audacity of this second request.
My inner dialogue was full of judgment. “How dare you ask me to do this? You’ve got some nerve. Are you freakin’ kidding me?” But that’s not what I said out loud. That would be rude, right?
What I said was, “I’m busy tonight, sorry.” I didn’t want to be mean and judgmental, so instead, I said something lame and inauthentic. Ugh.
Her: “Oh, how about tomorrow?”
Me: “Okay. As long as you come over and do it with me.”
How did those words come out of my mouth? In the moment, I felt if she helped me, it would feel like less of a chore for me. I might be okay with it. But, I wasn’t. I didn’t want to upholster her chairs. But, I said it, and now I had to follow through.
The next morning, she called and asked if she could come by later that afternoon. My gut was screaming, “NO!” but I said, “Sure.” I was still afraid to tell her how I really felt, and I was feeling sick about it.
After sitting with it for a few hours, I realized I needed to tell her the truth. I was feeling unvalued and angry at being ‘used’.
I’m usually not a martyr or a victim. I’ve worked hard on taking responsibility for my actions, thoughts, and words.
I don’t believe that people take advantage of you without your permission. I was finally ready to take a stand for my truth. So, I called her and said, “Sorry, work is really busy, and I won’t be able to help you.”
Okay, that was not the whole truth. I was still trying to be soft instead of harsh. I thought she’d get the hint and leave me alone. That was obviously the wrong approach. Because then came the THIRD, most OUTRAGEOUS ASK of all.
“Oh. Can I just drop them off at your house? You can get to them any time over the next few weeks.”
I told her I needed to sleep on it. I was still not brave enough to say a clear ‘no’. So I bought myself a little time. All the men reading this are probably saying, “What’s wrong with this woman? Why doesn’t she just say NO?” Like many women, I was brought up to be nice—at any cost. It’s a bad habit I work hard on breaking every day. Kindness is good. But only when it doesn’t hurt you.
The next day, she was traveling, so I sent an email, mulling it over to make sure it was polite, connected, and kind.
“I wanted to get back to you about the chairs. I value our long friendship. We’ve been through so much together over the past few decades.
It feels to me like our friendship has shifted; that the only time you call is to ask a favor. I’m uncomfortable with that, which is why I hesitated about reupholstering your chairs.
I’d like to go back to a friendship that’s not task-related, but based on warmth and shared experiences. Let me know if that works for you.”
A week later, she emailed back. She was a bit defensive. She didn’t believe she had done anything wrong. She’s not a bad person, but she doesn’t see how pushy she can be. I don’t expect her to change who she is. It took this incident for me to finally realize that I needed to change how I will show up and interact with her—and others—in the future.
Although I regret not being able to speak up and set clearer boundaries in the moment, I’ve definitely learned my lesson. Old habits are hard to break, but I’ve learned how to stop the second and especially the third ask from happening again in the future.
And wouldn’t you know, later that week, I had three more people ask me for favors, and three more opportunities to turn down a second ask. I’m proud to say I said no to each of them. (It’s amazing how the Universe sends you teachers over and over again until you learn your lesson!)
People will sometimes ask you to do things you’re not comfortable doing. If you say ‘yes’ when you mean ‘no’, it will eventually take its toll on you. You will become depleted. That’s because you’ll be out of alignment with your core values.
How to say NO to the SECOND ASK:
1) Buy yourself some time before responding.
You never have to say ‘yes’ in the moment. It’s good to wait 24-hours before giving your answer. One of my favorite ways to do that is to say, “I need to sleep on that. Can I get back to you tomorrow?” It’s amazing what a difference a good night’s sleep makes.
2) Learn how to set clear boundaries.
If you prepare a few statements in advance, you’ll be able to say them more easily when you’re in an uncomfortable situation. Here are a few I like: “Sorry, I can’t do __________, but I’m happy to do ____________.” In other words, it doesn’t always have to be a firm ‘no’. Be clear about what you ARE and AREN’T willing to do.
Or if it’s a clear ‘no’ say, “I’m sorry, I’m not comfortable with that.” Have a few of these boundaries ready to pull out whenever you feel like a deer in the headlights, especially on that SECOND ASK. (For a copy of a boundaries book I co-wrote with a fellow Good Men Project author, Theresa Byrne, click here. It’s available FREE from 9/1 to 9/5).
3) You might need to end the friendship.
Seriously, sometimes you just need to walk away from someone who doesn’t appreciate your kindness and good heart. When the balance of your relationship feels way off, have a conversation about it. If they’re not respectful of your needs, walk away and find friends who do respect you as much as you respect them.
The next time someone asks you to do them a favor and you’re not comfortable, especially if it’s the SECOND ASK, I hope you’ll be able to speak your truth. Set clear boundaries about what you will and won’t do. Answer them clearly and calmly. Only do a favor when it works for both of you. That way, you can be kind, and you won’t become a doormat.
Have you ever had your kindness challenged? Were you asked to do something outrageous and said ‘yes’ when you meant ‘no’? Please share in the comments below.
Photo: Flickr/Ed Yourdon