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A friend of my friend (which makes her a kind of "distant friend") went into an argument with me today. In this argument, she brought up favors she did for me previously (yes, there were one or two which means very much to me, but I think it's not a big deal for her - I may be wrong, though). She was asking for a small favor that I can't do for her because I need to be in somewhere else (not that I don't want to help her).

I've never brought up any favor I've done to anyone, even in a heated argument, but today I broke up that and mentioned a favor I've done for her - which may seems not much in her eyes, but actually costed a great deal for me.

I kinda regretted that moment, but I really hate when someone brought this topic against me, especially because I would never expect anything when I do favor for them.

How should one respond politely when a friend brings up the favors they've done for you?

I'm asking for the general situation (a casual talk), and when in an argument, specifically. The person never brought up this before, so it's a one-time incident. Both the person and me are ethnic Chinese in Indonesia.

  • @Casebash added. However, note that people might bring up their deeds even when not asking for favor (just mentioning them out of the blue without any real intention still making me uncomfortable) – Vylix Jul 16 '17 at 8:29
  • @Vylix: Yes, and that would be a separate question. – Casebash Jul 17 '17 at 1:03
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There are two reasons a person would mention previous favours while asking you for one that you are not agreeing to.

  • they see these things as transactional: I have helped you x times, you have only helped me y times, you owe me. Pay up!
  • they are showing you their opinion of the closeness of your relationship: it's one chock-full of favours and helping. They want you to behave in accordance with that.

In an argument, when someone mentions old favours, you could ask why they mention that, for example

Are you saying I owe you? I would normally do this for you, but I've explained I have to be somewhere else.

or

I know we are the kind of friends who help each other. I would normally do this for you, but I've explained I have to be somewhere else.

Not sure about the second one though, since you describe her as distant so any assertion of closeness on her part might not be a feeling you share. In that case, you could try

I would normally do this for you, but I've explained I have to be somewhere else. I have only one or two friends so close that I could cancel a doctor appointment to help them move [or whatever] so please don't be offended I won't do it for you.

Me, I am not interested in "friends" who embroil me in an argument over whether or not I will do them a favour. A favour is freely given because you care for the person and want them to be happy. It's not an obligation or something to be argued over. But if I did find myself in one, listing the favours I have done in the past would not be likely to come up. I don't see much point to it. Upsetting the other person won't take away their need for whatever they are asking for, and can only hurt your friendship.

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    I would refrain from using the 3rd suggestion. If you're explaining then you look defensive. Deny, give reason, end of conversation. – Acumen Simulator Aug 4 '17 at 23:05
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I am a young professional, ethnic Chinese and grew up in USA. My personal experience with this kind of situation is to never fight back unless you want the friendship to possibly suffer. When I was little I used to care more, but over time I realized a favor done for a friend should be considered a free act of service. If the friend is a good friend, they will return the favor when you ask for it. A favor done for a stranger is also considered free, but one should never expect anything back, you most likely won't :(

For casual talk: Simply ignore the fact that they brought up a past favor. Say something like "oh yea thank you again for doing that [favor]"

for argument: You have to be a little more direct, but again never bring up favors you done for them, then your turn your friendship into a tit for tat one. Say something like "Yes I really do appreciate you helping me that time, but I am serious when I say I cannot help you today. It is really urgent and I hope you understand as my friend. I remember that time you helped me and you can always ask for my help anytime too, please understand"

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Another reason they could be bringing up the past favours they have done for you is they could be feeling upset and as though there is an imbalance in your relationship. Similar to the transaction view, just in a more personal manner.

When thinking back to things such as past favours people tend to remember the things they did more than what others have done so whether or not it is justified, it seems your friend is upset and believes you are not pulling your weight in terms of your friendship and are trying to convey this to you by means of listing examples (not the best approach but its what they did). To respond to this you need to show your friend how you have noticed and appreciated the effort they put in to your friendship and replying with what you have done for them (that they think of as not much) did not help at all.

You need to try and empathise with her, and look from her perspective where after happily doing you a few favours, they ask for one (as you described) small favour and you reject it. Was the place you needed to be so important that you couldn't shuffle things around to fit in with the small favour? If not did you properly explain how unusually constricting this thing you need to do is and how you intend to make it up to them? Keep in mind that as you said, there is a chance they may have gone out of their way in some of their favours for you before, postponing or squeezing it in to work with the things they were doing themselves.

Simply telling your friend

I was really thankful when you did {example favour} for me, it helped a lot and I know you had other plans that day

could potentially resolve the whole conflict on the spot. As I can tell from personal experiences with a close friend who I thought was taking my help for granted and not reciprocating it. Merely being told that your effort was noticed can go a very long way.

Saying these things in a casual conversation would greatly help avoid conflict and reach a happy resolution for each of you, if you instead replied by comparing what you have done for them, or implying they have not done that much then this can lead to an argument. Even at this point, there is not much difference for how you should respond as opposed to when in the casual conversation. If you keep a casual tone and volume then saying the same things would help defuse the tension and reach a solution. I understand there is also a chance that your friend is seeing things from a biased perspective and you may have been doing more than enough already however, insisting/arguing this point in your scenario will lead to nowhere

  • "could resolve the whole conflict on the spot" I disagree on this. This is what I've done in the past (with this particular person), but she still insisted me to help her. I agree that this will give confirmation that her past effort hasn't gone unnoticed, but the need of her request is still there. This might work, though it didn't work in my case. – Vylix Nov 2 '17 at 4:46
  • yeah, not too likely but it could happen (it has happened with me). More of a best-case scenario type thing so i edited "potentially" into my answer – Jesse Nov 2 '17 at 4:52

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