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Broadening the On-ramp for Women-run Companies

When Refusing to Help Is Actually More Helpful

I genuinely enjoy being helpful, but in work and in life, I receive far more requests for help than I can possibly fulfill. I am much better at saying no than I used to be, but it is something I am still working on. 

A friend recently asked me to do a seemingly trivial task that she estimated would take 15 minutes of my time. She could have easily found someone else to do this task, but since she has been helpful to me, I wanted to help her. I reluctantly agreed, even though I suspected it would take more of my time, and I was already feeling stretched. The task took two hours, resulting in exactly two hours of lost sleep that I really needed. I felt resentful even though I knew my friend would not have wanted my help if she knew my situation. I was also disappointed in myself for failing to listen to my gut and be honest with my friend from the get-go. As I said, I’m still working on saying no.

About a week after this experience, I asked another friend to do a trivial, 15-minute favor for me. She looked me straight in the eye and said, “No.”

“You know I love you. I like helping you when I feel I am the perfect person to help you and when you really need my help. You could easily outsource that task to someone else, and I don’t particularly enjoy spending my time on those types of tasks.” 

Her blunt answer rendered me speechless for a few moments. I wasn’t hurt or disappointed by her answer; I just rarely receive responses that rise to that level of honesty. After catching my breath and reflecting on her answer, I realized that by refusing to help me, she had actually been far more helpful for a few reasons:

She modeled how to be candid with kindness. 

Because I easily found someone else to help me, I was reminded that I am a resourceful person with a network of capable people to whom I can outsource many tasks. I was also reminded that nearly everyone in my life is also resourceful and will, in fact, survive without me.

She modeled how to value my time and focus on the things that I most enjoy and am best suited to do. 

Her refusal to help me actually made me more likely to ask her for help in the future. I often fail to ask others for help because I am afraid they will help me at the expense of their own health, relationships, goals, etc. Knowing that this friend will give me an honest answer and only say yes to tasks within her healthy parameters feels welcoming. 

The next time I am asked to help someone, I am going to ask myself:

Am I the best person who could easily be sourced for this task?

If this task takes twice as long as anticipated, will I have the bandwidth to complete it?

Is there a way I could be more helpful than by completing this task?

By saying yes to this task, what am I saying no to?

Is it possible that I might be more helpful by refusing to do this task?

I’m also going to try to remember some of the advice I have given on this topic in the past:

Do we need an excuse to say no?

When giving gets to be too much.

I’m hoping this will help.

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