Earlier today my poor car decided to utter its last few combustion cycles. It’s the day before I usually purchase groceries for the week. Waiting a few days for repairs has me stuck in a tight spot for a bit.


I followed up my saddening situation by asking if my friend could buy a few things from the market. I made sure she’d understand that I would compensate her for both what she got and her efforts getting it.

The first thing she did in response was bring up a problem. She told me she was somewhere she’d be at for awhile. Which, I completely understood; she had prior engagements.

So I told her it didn’t have to be that day and it could instead be another. I started to suspect that she was just trying to tell me she didn’t want to at all.

After I had told her this, she brought up another problem: she didn’t have cash on hand to purchase it. In this situation, I knew she probably could have purchased it because she has several credit cards. I took the benefit of the doubt though; suggesting that maybe she could pick me up and take me there and I’d pay her for petrol and time.

Again, instead of saying “no, sorry I can’t”, she brought up another ‘problem’. She thought she would be too busy the next few days.

This is when I gave up on asking her further for help and opted towards someone more direct and helpful.


I was receiving consecutive excuses and not getting to any hard realizations; it was a waste of both our time.

Early on I realized that the conversation would likely lead to nothing being accomplished. I continued to ask because when someone describes a problem I’m inclined to follow up with a solution. It leaves it open to being resolved rather than simply closing it off.

Maybe I should have dropped it sooner and perhaps it was naive of me to not listen to ‘the signs’. I was just hopeful that any issues brought up could be fixed.


I really don’t want to waste time like this with people again. I am content and fully accept that some people don’t want to help me (for whatever reasons they may have); I wish they simply told me they’re unable to, rather than leaving open statements that end up wasting both our time.

How can I ask something from my friend and get a direct (yes or no) response from them?

4 Answers 4


Here is something to think about. Has it ever happened that someone asked you to do something for them, and you couldn't, but then they helped you be able to? "Can you go and buy something for me?" "Oh, I'd love to, but I have no cash at the moment." "Oh you silly goose, just use your credit card!" "Hey, thanks, I would never thought of that, now I'm delighted to be able to help!"

Probably not, right?

So the first thing you need to know is that your friend did answer you as directly as most people ever will. You need to be able to understand these answers and, as you say, not waste your time trying to respond to the reason for the no and instead respond to the answer you got, which was no.

The second thing you need to know is that when you ask a friend to solve a problem of yours, you are more likely to succeed if they help with finding the solution. "Oh, my dear Mary, you would not believe it, my car has collapsed, and this the day before I usually shop!" "No, it hasn't! How awful for you." "Oh it is, it is, and I don't know how I am going to get my milk and eggs now." "Well, …" and Mary may say "come with me when I shop" or "I could pick you up one or two things when I go" or "can't you just wait 3 days until your car is fixed" or "how do you think people without cars shop, there are these things called buses and taxis" or anything else that she thinks of. You have gone straight to the biggest imposition: please go without me to the store when you weren't planning to go, buy things I will like to my specifications with your money, bring them to me, and I'll give you the money. That's asking a lot. I would do that for a sick friend, but not for someone who is just waiting for their car to be fixed. Such a "big ask" (in my culture) should be offered by the friend, not asked for right away.

Third, if you find yourself asking someone for something and wishing their answer was more direct, ask a more direct question. That is, when you say "can you X for me" and they say "oh sure, would love to, but Y" and then you say "but you could A" and then say "ah, no, because B, what a bummer, wish I could help" you need to resist the urge to solve B and instead return to the original question more directly. "So you're not going to be able to help me X at all?" They can then say, "sorry, no" directly.

In summary: don't rebut excuses, ask for general help before specific help and let them choose how much help to offer, and when you're starting to conclude they won't help, ask them directly if they're saying they can't help.

  • 1
    The last bit is only necessary if you want to call them out on not helping though. Which can feel like a satisfying thing to do, but does absolutely nothing towards getting what you want - in combination with alienating them. There is no point, really - and riding the guilt train to get something will by any sane person with self confidence be seen as manipulating. But yeah, the order of business is correct. So, have a +10 on the way to 30k. =D
    – Stian
    Feb 3, 2019 at 22:07
  • 2
    ah, but the OP was having a problem of not realizing the person was saying no. So at least until the OP gets better at that realization, a little "are you saying you won't be able to help me with this at all?" will go a long way. In time, it may be possible to just reach that conclusion without pushing the other person into saying it so clearly, which will be good because people may feel bad saying "that's right, I can't help you no matter what" even though you need to know it so clearly. Be sure to thank them when they give you directness - it will have been hard for them. Feb 3, 2019 at 22:23

As friends are usually people than care about and help each other, they often don't want to be rude, nor do they wish to say (a plain) "no" (with no real reasons or excuse). They don't want to look like someone who won't make the extra step for you. Because they'll do it for you, most if the time. But, sometimes, for any reason that they don't want to share, they can't or just don't want. This happens.

When I have a real problem and can't help a friend, I'll let them know ASAP. And provide them, not with an excuse, but with a solution. For instance :

Ho, I can't on saturday, sorry ! (Here, some just give the reason, but it's not needed). But I have the ability/time/opportunity on sunday/monday. Will it be OK for you?

If nothing like that is said, you almost have for sure your answer: I can't, sorry. But your friend didn't, she said nothing clear and hoped you'd understand, that's her mistake IMO. Yours was to not read the signs. And it's a very common situation.

As in many situation like that, and not only with friends, but colleagues/customers/sellers, people say "no" without saying the word. They believe that you can hear it anyway. They hope that you heard it, because it makes them feel uncomfortable to just say no.

To answer your main question, I think that, unless you read the signs and pick up the proper answer, you can't force people into telling you what they don't want to. And I'd strongly advice against anything that would look like a: "I need a clear answer! So, is it YES or NO?". They'll feel trapped, and bad.

The more you ask, the more they'll feel under pressure, with the urge to dig deeper and deeper to find a "good" reason, an excuse. That stains relationships when discovered, and does more harm than good

If a person is willing to help and can't, they'll tell you how and when they can. In (m)any other case(s), it's very often a just a simple "no", but with very complicated twists around :)


How can I ask something from my friend and get a direct (yes or no) response from them?

The answer to this question is actually within the responses given themselves.

If a friend responds with a reason for inability to fulfill the request and offers a solution, then that means: yes, they are eager to help.

Otherwise, they’re just being kind and trying to deliver a subtle no. If they truly were ready to help, then they would offer an idea to accommodating any situation that might prohibit it.

People are naturally polite and try and be kind when delivering an undesirable response. I have even found myself behaving this way before. Being too direct would elicit a strong feeling of rejection, making it seem like the person’s feelings wasn’t of concern to you because you didn’t make an effort to lighten the blow. That’s why people leave hints.

For me, not realizing that the answer is no and moving on from their ‘hint’ was what made the situation more difficult. Recognizing that people behave this way makes conversations and request a lot easier.

Thank you to @OldPadawan and @Kate Gregory for providing insight. :)

  • Summarizing like this with your own words seems fine to me :)
    – OldPadawan
    Feb 3, 2019 at 12:13
  • 2
    Yes, it takes some ideas given and puts them together, and No, it's not a problem at all, it's really fine IMO. If it answers your OP, that's the important point :)
    – OldPadawan
    Feb 3, 2019 at 12:30

When making your request, simply state that 'no, I can't' is an acceptable answer.

Lots of people out there try to be nice and polite because they think that, well, it is polite to do so.

Sometimes happens that someone prefer the direct answer instead of a pile of polite excuses and that is unusual, so if you are dealing with friends feel free to let them know what is your preference.

It takes some time, but they eventually get used to your request and maybe start to answer accordingly.

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