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A while ago, I was visiting an acquaintance to help her with something. After I finished fixing the problem, she asked me to do another thing "while you're at it". Let's say I'm done sweeping the house, and she asked me to mop the floor. The task was related, and it would take approximately half an hour.

This was not something I've agreed to do before, and certainly I was not planning for it. The complexity and needed time of the issue were not an issue (although it was not a small task), I didn't have anything else planned, but I felt like I was put on the spot if I refuse.

Additionally, from the past interaction with this person, I had a suspicion that she was planning to ask for this when she asked for my help. Note that I'm also worried that her request become slippery slope.

After this, can you do X? (After I've done X) Can you do Y? It will only take 5 minutes, I promise!

How can I refuse her request politely? My goal is to refuse the task and maintain the relationship, especially allowing me to leave (preferably not immediately, see below) with smiles on both of our faces :)

I was visiting her to improve relationship. That's why I agreed to help her in the first place. Refusing seems to nullify what the improvement I was originally aimed for. Preferably, I was hoping to stay a while for a chat (casual, but I have certain goal in mind), but if it's too awkward to stay after refusing her request, I'm fine to leave. (for example: I need to go)

Update: Initially I was asked to help her install a software. It took an hour to get the software ready for her to use. After that, she asked me to install the companion app on her phone. I could see that I have to check whether the app and the software in PC can communicate with each other properly.

I doubt there's a "professional" that I can direct her to, because the task seemed very simple to be handled by a technician. She lived alone, so she had rather limited connection to someone who can do this. I can understand that.

  • Are you willing to do the second task another time or would you rather not do it at all? – Tycho's Nose Nov 3 '17 at 8:33
  • @Tycho'sNose yes. I'd be fine doing to do that next time. I'd be fine doing that if I was told that before. I like to know what's my tasks before doing it. Having another task pops out really annoys me, especially since I'm expecting to have a free time (with her) after finishing the job. – Vylix Nov 3 '17 at 8:42
  • And this is not a paid task. I just like to help people, but only when I fully expect what needs to be done before. – Vylix Nov 3 '17 at 8:48
  • It is not clear from your text the type of relationship, but people may and will take you for granted, which kind of put me off of helping for free people. How about trading computer help for a home made meal or cake? – Rui F Ribeiro Nov 22 '17 at 6:12
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    "I have certain goal in mind" => What goal? I hope it is not dating... – peufeu Dec 4 '17 at 20:45
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Based on your answer to my comment, you could just tell your friend very politely something like,

Hey, I was looking forward to just chilling with you after finishing {task 1} and I'd really rather do that and come back another time for {task 2}. I'm sure {task 2} won't take long but I just didn't want to do it now. However, is there anything else I could help you with (if you feel like offering more help in the future)? I could do both {task 2} and {task 3}, next time I see you, I promise. I just like to know ahead of time what you need help with (and smile). I was hoping we have a chat after finishing {task 1}.

This is basically you repeating the same thing different ways and if she keeps arguing about {task 2} not taking long, you will insist back until she either respects your wish or you leave without hanging out with her this time around.

(I don't know the type of relationship you have with that friend-how open/honest you can be with her) BUT because you wrote that you intended to improve the relationship, I'd just compromise this one time especially if this was the first time I was doing something for a friend (I like and want to improve the relationship with).

What I would do in addition so that she doesn't take your help for granted, though, is to make sure she knows that from now on if she needs help that she should tell me in advance what exactly it is that she needs just because I feel better this way (Make it about you).

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It's really hard to say no to someone close asking for a favor. This is the thing that one need to learn via practices. After a series of similar situations, I have learned this and am sharing how to.

You can say like,

Hey, I have to go somewhere for something important. Can we do that after n hours or day (replace n with a certain number)?

or

I don't think (or I am not confident enough) I can do x? Why don't you ask someone else?

You should really say that with confidence because people may try to convince you to do x if you don't show self-confidence. You should be confident and polite here.

This article also shares some great tips and I am taking some tips from it.

  1. "This does sound like something that may be for me. AND I have just committed to three other priorities right now. Will you come back in _____ days/weeks and give me another chance to consider this opportunity with you." This works because it acknowledges interest and keeps you from taking on more than you can complete.

  2. "I wish I could, but it is just not possible right now. Thank you for thinking of me." Your no is based on the timing and thanking the requester really helps.

And also, this one,

"I can’t manage that as I have to focus on important affairs", will help you to decline the other persons request in a friendly but crystal clear way. How to apply? As a polite but direct form of saying "no".

  • +1 for some wonderful examples. Although i don't think they really apply if OP is being asked to complete mundane tasks like mopping. Could you clarify the sort of task you are being asked to complete @Vylix ? – Jesse Nov 3 '17 at 6:26
  • @Jesse I've updated the question with a note at the bottom. – Vylix Nov 3 '17 at 6:55
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    @Vylix And I have striked out the second suggestion as it no longer work since you said She lived alone, so she had rather limited connection to someone who can do this. I can understand that. – A J Nov 3 '17 at 6:58
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You have a couple of options, in addition to the other answers.

First, decide if you can just grit your teeth and do it anyway. If you went to improve the relationship, and time isn't a factor, why not improve it more?

If you really don't want to, soften the blow and try and provide help in other ways: "I can't right now, but I will send you a link to a guide when I get home, so you can still do it" or "I'm sorry but I have other plans, I can call you later to walk you through it/give you a technical support number?"

However, if it could be considered part of the same task (When you are asked to install software they are asking you to get them to a state where they can use the software, not to just install it) then if you have any time at all, just do it - especially if they are not capable themselves, or you are leaving a task half finished and a friend who still can't use the software as they want.

If you were to ask a mechanic friend to "Can you see what's wrong with my car?" and they had a look and said:

"Oh, the doodads broken"

"Can you fix it?"

"Yes, its easy but it'll take 30 mins, I'm not doing anything, but I just don't want to"

They fulfilled your request, for free, to your benefit, but how would you feel?

Finally, a point to consider is that they may have no other options: I've worked with people (especially elderly people) who would save up many requests, because they did not often meet anyone who could help them, and if I didn't, they would potentially not be able to use their computer for months after. See if this applies to your situation?

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Your only polite option is to excuse yourself and leave. Anything else comes across as you saying "I don't really want to, but could you do me a favor?"

I was hoping to stay a while for a chat (casual, but I have certain goal in mind)

Is it possible this person knew you were just going to be using them and decided to get what they could out of it as well?

My honest advice is, that since you've admitted to yourself, and the internet, that you're in it to get some benefit out of it, figure out the maximum cost (apparently it will be in favors) that you're willing to pay to try to buy your goal. Then if it gets to a point where it appears that the cost is too high, excuse yourself from the situation and move on.

I'm being deliberately cold and transactional about the advice because that's apparently how you view your relationship with this person, based on your own story. Transactional is a valid relationship model, but only if it's clear to both parties up front.

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