Metro Canada (Toronto) - - Front Page - Ellen Van­stone

Dear Ellen,

I work in IT and some of my friends are al­ways ask­ing me to help them with their com­puter prob­lems. I don’t want to be a jerk, but if I said yes to ev­ery­one I’d be work­ing on IT prob­lems af­ter work and ev­ery week­end. How do I po­litely tell them I don’t want to spend all my free time do­ing my job for free?

DX Dear DX,

In my pre­vi­ous job as an ed­i­tor, I of­ten had the same prob­lem. Peo­ple would ask me to read their books, or scripts, or es­says, or re­sumés, or grant ap­pli­ca­tions, with few of them o er­ing to pay for my time. Some seemed to think they were do­ing me a favour by al­low­ing me to see their un­pub­lished ge­nius. Oth­ers had no idea how much time and e ort it takes to edit any kind of writ­ing, in any for­mat, long or short.

And then there were the spe­cial cases: in­di­vid­u­als who asked for “edit­ing” but who re­ally wanted gobs of un­quali ied praise, and who were ou­traged when I dared to sug­gest changes. Need­less to say, these un­charm­ing ego­ma­ni­acs were the worst writ­ers of all.

I still get asked to read peo­ple’s stu but, with a cou­ple of rare ex­cep­tions, I usu­ally say no. I po­litely, but irmly, tell peo­ple the truth: I’m swamped with other work, and I sim­ply don’t have time.

You’re in a trick­ier po­si­tion be­cause peo­ple can in­vite you over for drinks or snacks, and then hit you up on the spot. If this hap­pens, your re­sponse will de­pend on what kind of re­la­tion­ship you’re deal­ing with. If it falls into the ca­sual (dis­pos­able) cat­e­gory, tell the per­son “no, sorry, I leave the IT stu at work,” and let the chips fall where they may.

If it’s in the val­ued-friend­ship cat­e­gory, go ahead and work on their IT prob­lem for a set time ( ive to 15 min­utes). Then, if you still haven’t solved it, rec­om­mend a ser­vice they can call. If they keep ex­pect­ing free IT ser­vices ev­ery time you go over, con­sider mov­ing them into the dis­pos­able-friend­ship cat­e­gory.

Don’t do free work for peo­ple un­less there’s a quid pro quo you ind ac­cept­able, or un­less you sin­cerely want to lend a hand, in which your gen­eros­ity will bene it you more than any­one.

But to feel co­erced into “help­ing” a friend be­cause you’re too timid to say no, and then stew with silent, toxic re­sent­ment that ul­ti­mately ruins the friend­ship… well, that’s not good man­ners at all.

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