Circumstances in life are often separated by a thin line, whereby if you’re on one side of the line you’re in a good place and on the other you’re not.
Last week I had coffee with Sharon and a poignant example of a “thin line” situation came up. Sharon is one of several friends I have who works in the beauty industry as either a massage therapist, hairdresser, nail technician or esthetician.
I’ve known Sharon for ten plus years. She’s sweet tempered, conscientious and genuinely accommodating. She and I both love plays, movies, concerts and other entertainment extravaganzas. During our last visit she mentioned a special “one night only” event she’d recently been excited to see – but had to miss.
Our conversation went like this:
Me: Why couldn’t you go?
She: Because one of my clients, who’s a good friend, wanted an appointment that night. She always calls me at the last minute.
Me: Why didn’t you tell her you had plans?
She: Because she would get upset.
Me: You mean she calls you at the last minute and then gets upset if you can’t take her?
She: Yes, but she’s my good friend and I don’t like to upset her.
(I could feel my “hackles” beginning to bristle.)
Me: Can I tell you what I think about this?
She: Sure. Go ahead.
Me: There’s a good friend in your relationship Sharon, but only one of them and it’s you. Let’s call your friend Abby. If Abby gets upset when she calls you at the last minute and you can’t take her, then it’s time for you to let her be upset.
She’s not being respectful of you. Actually, you’re not being respectful of yourself. If Abby’s only your good friend when she’s getting her way, even at your expense, she’s no friend at all. She needs to learn to hear the word ‘no’ without throwing a tantrum. I know it’s scary to think about confronting her – but you’ll be doing both of you a favor in the long run if you do.
Sharon, if Abby claimed to be my friend and was also one of my clients, I’d look her straight in the eye and calmly but firmly say: Abby, you know I consider you a good friend. I really care about you. But I have a problem I need your help with.
You have a habit of calling me at the last minute for appointments. Now I don’t mind that at all. If I’m available, I’ll be happy to schedule an after-hours appointment for you. The problem is, that when I turn you down because I have previous plans, you get upset.
I need you to understand that I have a private life too, that includes other people. When you call me at the last minute, I need to be able to turn you down without you getting mad. It causes me anxiety and puts a strain on our friendship when I change my plans to schedule your spur of the moment requests. If you want definite times for your appointments, you’ll have to schedule them in advance. I value you as a friend and client but things need to change.
Can we work this out?
Then I’d pause, remaining quiet until she answered. Her reply will be the measure of your friendship. If she’s appalled at her behavior, having seemingly been unaware of her thoughtlessness, profusely apologizes and vows to never put you on the spot like that again, your friendship will be the stronger for it. But if instead, Abby ramps up, gets indignant, makes excuses and doesn’t apologize, you’ll know you didn’t have a real friend to begin with.
In the second instance, I’d tell her I’m sorry we can’t find a way to solve this issue, that she’ll have to decide what works best for her in the future, but that I am no longer going to alter pre-made plans if she calls again at the last minute.
If Abby still showed no remorse or understanding for my concerns, I’d begin letting the relationship fade away. I’d be less and less available for both business and personal appointments. I’d still be polite to her, but choose to spend time with people who respect me instead. I don’t mind being accommodating – but I refuse to be used.