Recently, one of my co-workers was telling me about a problem she was having. She’d offered to help a former colleagues with their job search, but even after referring them to a few positions and offering suggestions for breaking into her field, they still kept bothering her for help. My guess is that they didn’t want to “pick her brain,” but rather they wanted her to just send over an offer letter at our company.
My co-worker’s a considerate person, but she’s also a busy one—I know because I sit near her. So, while initially she’d been thrilled to help someone, after the fifth time they bugged her, she became annoyed.
Have you experienced a similar situation? If so, you’d probably agree with me in saying that the person is really just burning a bridge.
So, what do you do when someone’s constantly asking you for something and you just can’t give anymore—whether it’s because you truly don’t have the time or because you have no more to offer them?
Here’s how I suggest you handle it:
The person wants something—so don’t be afraid to directly ask them what it is. Because if they continue to beat around the bush, it’ll just continue to waste more of your time. It can be as simple as saying, “I’d love to help you out, but I’m not sure what you’re looking for. What would you like from me?”
Then, once you know what they want—whether it’s an introduction, a recommendation, advice, or some other favor—you can decide whether you want to (or can) give it to them. More on how to turn them down below.
Even if you’re super close with someone, you’re allowed to say no—seriously! Remember: This person isn’t paying you to help them out. And, especially if they aren’t giving you something in return (at the very least, buying you coffee or referring you to someone they know), they don’t have a right to your time.
There are numerous ways you can turn someone down and still maintain a positive relationship. This article is helpful if it was a one-time favor. These seven canned responses cover everything from opting out of an introduction to rejecting a networking meeting. And these templates can help you say no to all those emails you wish you could ignore.
Cut Them Off
Sometimes, you can say no, and the person just won’t listen. Or, you can punt the request to someone else and the person will still come back to you for guidance.
In these situations, it’s probably in your best interest (and sanity) to stop the madness altogether. As Editor-in-Chief Jenni Maier says about professional bridges you’re allowed to burn, “[D]o her a favor and offer a little networking advice. Tell her this isn’t the best way to keep in touch, and you’d hate for her to—get ready for it—burn any bridges. While she may be embarrassed, she’ll ultimately appreciate the advice. And hopefully, leave you alone.”
If bluntness doesn’t work, I give you permission to ignore or ghost them completely. Sure, it may force them never to talk to you again, but if they don’t respect and appreciate what you have done for them, they’re not worth keeping in your network.
In an ideal world, networking would be a two-way street—you help someone, they help you back. But unfortunately, you’re going to come across people who expect more from you than they deserve.
It may be tough to dodge their requests, but by doing so, you ultimately teach them a valuable lesson on what’s acceptable when networking. And, you free up your time to work on things that truly matter—and we could all be doing that a lot more.