Handling Inconvenient Requests

"You can have everything in life that you want if you will just help enough other people get what they want."
– Zig Ziglar

Early in my career, I read a lot of books by self-help gurus, seeking advice on how to make my career successful. While I learned a lot of useful information, the one insight that has stuck with me the longest is the quote from Zig Ziglar you can see above. While this quote might be promising more than it can deliver, it still rings true with me in most cases. I find this advice particularly helpful when I am faced with situations where helping someone else might be inconvenient to me. Let’s look at one example…

It’s almost 5:00 PM on Friday afternoon and you get a call from a manager (who is not your boss), asking if you can help him run a report he is having difficulty with. He needs the report now so that he can work on a presentation over the weekend, to be delivered on Monday morning. When you get an inconvenient request for help like this, there are several different ways you might decide on a response.

You could say no, because:

  • Why should you have to work overtime because some manager isn’t smart enough to run his own report?
  • Why should you help out if the manager can’t plan his time better, and make the request earlier in the day?
  • Maybe you don’t like the manager, or don’t know him very well, and you don’t have any desire to help him.
  • Maybe you don’t have time, because you have an important appointment at 5:30 PM.

You could say yes, because:

  • Perhaps that particular report is complex, and you can understand why he might need help with it.
  • Perhaps the manager was just told an hour ago that he had to make a presentation on Monday, and he didn’t have time to ask for help earlier.
  • Maybe you know and like the manager, so you don’t mind helping out.
  • Maybe you don’t have any pressing time constraints, and putting in a little extra time won’t cause any problems for you.

I could provide lots more reasons for saying either yes or no to the manager’s request, but I think you get the point. When someone asks you for something that is an inconvenience to you, there are lots of pros and cons for deciding whether or not to help out.

When I am faced with these types of difficult decisions, I try to remember Zig Ziglar’s advice and use it to help me make the best decision. I may not always make the best choice (who can?), but keeping his advice in mind helps me to make more right choices than wrong ones.

What do you think? When faced with a difficult decision about whether or not to help someone when it is inconvenient for you, what thought process do you go through?


Originally published as an editorial in the DatabaseWeekly.com newsletter.