The Difference Between “Ask” and “Abuse”: Why You’re an Asshole When You Expect Help

Recently I made the following tweet:

My gripe seemed to resonate with some of my followers, who retweeted and responded, sharing similar sentiments and lamenting about people who hit them up for favors. I’m getting a bit tired of the “Scumbag Steve” people who only get in touch with me when they need something. Last time I checked, something that does that isn’t considered a friend, it’s defined as a parasite.

He doesn't even offer up a "Thanks, brah," either.

I’m sure you’re all too familiar with the drill: you receive an email out of the blue from a family member, acquaintance, old high school buddy, or a distant colleague whom you’ve met once at a conference four years ago. The ballsier emails cut to the chase — no half-ass pleasantries here, they need your expertise and they can’t be bothered with a polite “Hello, how’ve you been?” The subject line is a curt “Can you help me out with something” or “Take a look at this real quick for me,” falsely insinuating that the thing they want help with is something so quick and simple that you’ll barely need to spend five minutes on it, so why wouldn’t you throw your buddy a bone?

You scan the email. All your “friend” wants is an in-depth site audit, a free copy of your book, your consulting services on the house, step-by-step guidelines for how to build a robust website that will be wildly successful, or free access to tools or code that you spent weeks or months perfecting. That’s it. Surely you can spare that for an old pal, right?

Usually I relent, feeling obligated because the person in need is a family member or an old friend. So I spend a half hour or more doing research on his or her behalf, offering up my advice in a nicely formatted email or, even better, a well organized word document. I fire off my reply and wait for a courtesy “Thanks so much! This is really helpful and I greatly appreciate it. We should get together sometime and catch up so I don’t seem like I only contact you when I need something from you!” response.

The bad parasites counter back with a simple and curt “Thanks,” while the worst offenders don’t even respond at all, because they’ve gotten what they wanted from you and can’t be bothered to act like a decent human being and show an iota of gratitude. Scumbag Steve returns to his cave to hibernate for another several months before rearing his sleepy, ungrateful head to hit you up once again for free advice.

I’ve given site audits to people who never responded, not even with a half-ass “thank you.” I’ve provided folks with references to my friends when asked if I know any good developers, designers, consultants, etc. for a specific project, tell my friends to expect to be contacted for potential work, and apologize to my friends when they’re never contacted.  I’ve given advice to someone who asked me if there are any sites out there “like YouTube” and “Could I build a site that’s like YouTube but maybe 1/5th the traffic” and “Wait, how could hosting a YouTube-like video site cost that much money, that makes no sense,” and had this same person argue that “anyone who knows anything about Photoshop knows that Obama’s birth certificate is fake.” Bitch, you’re dumb enough to think a YouTube clone would be cheap to host but expect me to believe you’re some grand Photoshop wizard? I don’t think so.

Guess what? I’m tired of being used and abused, and I’m sure you are too. There’s a difference between asking someone for help and expecting it. Just because we are friends, colleagues, or family doesn’t mean I am obligated to help you. Yes, I know that I do “Internet stuff.” I know we sat next to each other in 9th grade Geometry. I know that I’m your sister and you drove me to the movies before I had my driver’s license. But I’m also a human being. I’m not some vending machine that shits out advice every time you feed me a quarter (and I don’t even get a quarter!). My purpose in life is not to sit in front of my computer waiting for you to email me for help so I can spring onto my keyboard and eagerly comply, like a doting dog waiting at the front door for its master to come home and pat me on the head.

You want my help? Here’s how you get it:

  1. You interact with me outside of your requests. None of this Halley’s Comet “one email every year” bullshit — you want my help, you’re gonna have to put in the time. Some sort of interaction, whether it’s the occasional “How’re ya doing” email, a tweet thrown my way, hell, even a “like” on my Facebook status will show me that you’re someone who’s at least feigning a relationship, however superficial it may be. You don’t actually need to know magic, you just need to fool your audience.
  2. You scratch my back. Be available for help in return. If this relationship is a one-way street, pretty soon the more useful party will go “Wait a minute, I think I’m getting a raw deal here” and realize that you’re not pulling your weight. Offer up something you’re good at. If Internet marketing or coding ain’t your thing, throw a gift card, a baked good, or a hot meal your friend’s way. If your buddy feels appreciated, he’s more likely to help you again in the future.
  3. You’re a decent human being. The simplest rule of all that everyone seems to forget. What happened to “please” and “thank you”? A simple follow up is common courtesy. “Hey, thanks for the referrals. They didn’t end up fitting with what I was looking for, but I really appreciate you sending those contacts my way!” “Thanks for the advice! Take a look at some of the changes I implemented after going through your notes — they really improved the look and feel, so thanks again.” And so on. Would it kill you to show some gratitude? I’m tired of a society that’s become too selfish, too egotistical, too greedy. You’re not entitled to anything; you earn that shit and you thank the people who helped get you there.

If you’re still confused, it all boils down to simple rules you learned in kindergarten: be nice, say “please” and “thank you,” and share. If you can’t even do those three little things, you’re a selfish asshole who doesn’t deserve help. If you can, then I will gladly offer you some assistance. It’s what friends are for, right?

About Rebecca Kelley

Rebecca is the Editor in Chief for Reputation Management, an online resource for businesses and individuals who want to keep their online reputation in check. In her spare time she trains for marathons and triathlons and writes about her experience at Mediocre Athlete, as well as makes fun of her Asian mother over at My Korean Mom.

Comments

  1. Boom! One of my favorite posts of 2012 so far.

    These folks would crap their pants if they knew what we charge and are worth, yet they expect to pay up when the car is in the shop or the plumber makes a visit.

  2. Outstanding read on a snowy Friday afternoon – thanks for saying what so many (including myself) are thinking. The one question I have is… are Scumbag Steves aware that they are Scumbag Steves? Or are they really that naive and don’t know they only come to you when they need something for nothing?

    • I think it can go either way. I politely called out the last person who pulled this stunt on me and he seemed really clueless and apologetic (or at least he faked it decently).

  3. I don’t “think” I ever do this. If I do I hope I get called on it. I fall into the “a distant colleague whom you’ve met once at a conference four years ago” category except it was…wow, 6 years ago on a bus to the Google Dance :)

    I’ve given out a little free advice here and there and the recipients have usually been pretty appreciative. I do find though that since I started doing consulting on the side, I’m more hesitant to give advice for free. Does that make me a jackass?

  4. Can you take a look at my website real quick? I’m sure it won’t take you but 5 minutes; I need you to make sure that my birth certificate isn’t fake.

    Tha– oh, wait, I don’t say that.

    Hop to it.

    (Great post, really. Thanks for writing it. There are a *lot* of people who feel that way that I hope will start standing up for themselves!)

  5. This article is *awesome*. The only category I think you left out is the people who not only want help with something for free, but they know you so poorly that they want help with something you’re not even particularly good at.

    “You’re a web designer, right? Can you come take a look at my printer/re-install my hard drive/help me set up my DirecTV?”

    *sigh*

  6. “I’m tired of a society that’s become too selfish, too egotistical, too greedy.”

    Mmm. so its like that in your nick of the woods too… Great article! Thanks for wording its so graciously.

  7. I worked with someone who was infamous for trying to buy people lunch and coffee (not even beer) to gain knowledge and insight. He was the most annoying person ever when it came to this — it killed our working relationship.

    I’ll try to help people, but at some point enough is enough. If it’s a quick tweet that helps someone on their way – cool. If it’s someone stopping by my desk to ask a question – no problem. But if it’s a situation where my time is *expected* to be given to them for free, no can do.

    I’m part of a community and I want to help others, but there are some people who don’t get the fact that I have other stuff going on that I actually have to bill for to pay the bills.

  8. OK – I signed up for the trial. Trying to get back to my trial – but there is no login anywhere to be found on the site.

    How/where do we log into our account?

  9. I like your post – Jenna Marbles on youtube could probably do a skit on it.

    I also echo Jason’s comment above – it’s not obvious how to login to authoritylabs. I have a trial account.

    sam