1

I find that it’s particularly hard for me to help someone when they want my help but I disagree on what’s helpful? Especially when I’m seen as an expert.

Instance: Friend for years messages me,

By any chance would you care to see if you could fix my stereo?

You mentioned you may be able to look at it.

Either that or I have to get a new one in which case, the one I want is about $900

Generally, I’m happy to help this friend with stuff and have, many many times. Frequently. We support/are good for each other.

But receiving this request was very frustrating. I had tried to help a long time ago but hadn’t had success and we dropped it. Since then we got together and did other things several times. There’s another (working) stereo system and it not a big house. A few months ago it came up again and I provided my recollection of the situation. I said I recall we tested the speakers and couldn’t get one to work with the same signal and cable that worked with the other speaker, but you insist they work and don’t want to look at that. You didn’t want to try my idea which was to try plugging in different speakers. I think (but didn’t say) they’re emotionally attached to the speakers and hence insisted they still work. We moved on. And that was it until I got that message the other day.

I replied,

I can’t. You don’t accept my advice or troubleshooting strategy. I said I recall we tested the speakers and couldn’t get one to work with the same signal and cable that worked with the other speaker, but you insist they work and don’t want to look at that.

This is a short excerpt from a many times longer rant reply:

I had someone else look at it and the wire was loose from the plug!

I bought new wire and new plugs.

Don’t worry, I’m never gonna ask you for anything. Too close for comfort. I’ve decided I’m better off being a loner! I could care less about anyone anymore. Time for change, life moves on.

Lately you act like I’m just a nuisance.

It seems it landed as very insulting when I stated there was a disagreement that was keeping me from being helpful.

I don’t feel my ‘no’ was that bad. I'm not clear on who set it on fire, but it seems clear the bridge has burned down.

My goals?

  1. Avoid the further frustration from trying to help when I can't/feel it's beyond my frustration tolerance.
  2. Avoid triggering an end to the friendship.
  3. Help, if I can while being consistent with 1&2.
7
  • Welcome to IPS. "Was my 'no' that bad?" is perhaps not the best way to phrase your question - it's arguably opinion-based. You might want to rephrase to focus on your goal. Something like "How should I have approached this in order to avoid burning bridges while communicating my frustration?" or something.
    – Sarov
    Sep 28 at 0:12
  • Also, note that while you perhaps could have approached things better from your end, overall I'd guess the issue is more on the other end. Sounds like this person may need professional help. That or you were just being trolled.
    – Sarov
    Sep 28 at 0:12
  • @Sarov Indeed. I removed the second question, leaving the one in the title. Sep 28 at 0:21
  • Yes, I shouldn’t assume a superb ‘no’ would have changed the outcome. In fact, they generally don’t handle hearing ‘no’ well - from anyone. Sep 28 at 0:33
  • Do note that our help center generally states that questions asking 'what to say' or 'how to respond' are off-topic, and should focus on how to say what you want to say instead. I'm giving this an edit to reflect that. I have one question for you though: What are you trying to achieve by telling them this? For example, do you want them to be convinced to try things your way, or do you rather want to end up declining helping entirely because you don't have any other ideas you think are worth trying, or something else? If you want more than one thing, what's most important for you?
    – Tinkeringbell
    Sep 28 at 6:49
2

I deal with a similar sort of thing at work regularly. I get asked to solve some problem, but I need something from them to do it. I would've responded with something like this instead:

Yes, I'm still able to help you with that. I believe we left off with the evidence pointing to bad speakers. Do you want to try swapping them out to see if that gets your stereo working?

This has a few key parts which makes it work. First, I start by saying "yes" to the request. That will put the person asking for help in a good mood, and they're more likely to assume good intentions on your part. If you don't start with this, they may interpret it as you attempting to get out of helping them.

The second important aspect is to tell them what you need without blaming them. Never say anything like, "I told you I needed X and you didn't do it, so I can't do anything." Even if it's completely true, it will make them defensive and it doesn't solve anything. Clearly state your understanding of next steps and what is needed from them to move forward (in this case, agreement to troubleshoot the speakers).

In this particular case, it seems unlikely they would've said "yes, let's do that", but maybe they would've replied with the new info in a calmer manner. Almost anyone would react defensively to your message.

With all that said, the extreme reaction you got indicates there are either some deeper issues in your relationship or your friend is emotionally unstable in general, so I'm not sure how much it would matter. The fact they tried to guilt you with the "I'll have to buy a new one for $900 if you don't help me" is a red flag that this person tends to be unreasonable and difficult in general. You could have been more tactful, for sure, but their response was not proportionate.

2
  • Thanks. Good answer. The frustration I was feeling wasn’t much resolved by saying no. Trying again like this could result in further frustration, but could also resolve the still-lingering frustration. I can’t think of a way of improving your strategy to address the lingering frustration and goal #1 more than yours would. Oct 4 at 0:08
  • @WHO'sNoToOldRx4CovidIsMurder I'll edit in a bit about how to say you can't help if they're making it too difficult, but I think you're beyond that in this particular case.
    – Kat
    Oct 4 at 19:47

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.