We all know friends, colleagues, and even strangers who constantly need our support and encouragement. We help them along and respond to their needs for assistance. It’s the right thing to do.

Or is it? There comes a time when it’s wise to ask yourself if you are genuinely helping someone or contributing to a negative pattern, which may include manipulating you into doing their work.

We are intelligent people, and it isn’t easy to accept ourselves as duped by an acquaintance, a co-worker, or a family member – surely, they don’t mean to use us. And in many cases, you are correct. Others genuinely need our help. It’s still a good idea to raise your awareness of bad habits and self-serving practices to identify a genuine need versus a way to avoid work.

A perfect example can be found in social media feeds. Scroll through a post and see how many times someone asks in the comments for a link or reference to information that’s already clearly given or is easily accessible through an online search. Somehow the post originator is assumed responsible for answering these demands. Here’s an example: You post about a great experience you’ve had at a local business. Almost immediately, someone asks you about the business’s hours of operation or if they carry a specific product. This is not your responsibility! It’s an example of someone expecting another person to do their work by not taking the initiative to look up the information themselves. It’s not your job to provide them with a link to business hours or an online shopping menu. Stop holding their hand. 

When a colleague comes to you with a problem, the first step is triage. Does the issue involve a threat to safety and well-being? If so, then it’s usually best to help and unpack the situation later. Be alert, however, when someone approaches you in a panic, stating they are in a real mess and need your immediate help.  Based on experience, you know they expect you to take on their task. First, determine a few things: is the crisis of their own making? Perhaps they’re facing a tight deadline because they didn’t read essential instructions. Or maybe you know full well that they spent the last few days procrastinating. One of the best approaches, in this case, is to ask your colleague what they think needs to be done. Say you are happy to give them feedback on their approach and offer input, but you can’t take on their problem due to your workload.  Be kind but firm. You are not doing them any favours by doing their job for them. Remember the first time you heard the Polish saying, “Not my circus, not my monkeys!” Just because someone is in a panic, you aren’t obliged to take on that frenzy yourself. 

Sometimes a client comes to you with expectations beyond reasonable. They need something done immediately as they are unexpectedly being audited. They forgot to order the necessary parts for the repair person arriving in an hour. They want to make today’s deadline despite it being posted weeks ago.  If you can help, then help. But never at the expense of other clients or your health. Is it worth staying up 24 hours to scan through poorly kept records? Do you have the resources to pull together a promotional ad in time for a looming publication deadline? Don’t sacrifice the quality of what you do and how you do it to please someone you suspect may end up being a one-shot client.  Trust your intuition. 

There will always be times of genuine need when your help will prove invaluable to someone. Life sends unexpected circumstances. Supporting others in times of true need provides them with much-needed relief and motivation. Working hand-in-hand with someone to solve a problem is much different than rescuing them.