Until February of this year, doing a friend a favor was mostly a matter of logistics, timing and an honest conversation about whether, well, this friend was worth the effort. But now, as the coronavirus continues to surge, every action, ask and decision carries more weight than ever.
However, if you still feel the desire to take one for the team and assist a pal in need, you’re not alone. While doing favors isn’t necessarily an innate human behavior, we’re socially conditioned to want to help out when asked.
“We have this fundamental need to belong, and this fundamental need to feel like good people,” said Vanessa Bohns, an associate professor of organizational behavior at Cornell. “And saying no to someone, rejecting someone who needs our help, goes against both of those things.”
But being the friend, family member or loved one constantly called upon for tasks can take its toll. We expect our relationships to be balanced, Dr. Bohns said, so feeling as if we are perpetually shouldering the weight of doing a good deed can breed resentment.
And during a pandemic — when personal boundaries and comforts can deviate from what we’ve become accustomed to — being asked to water a neighbor’s garden while that person’s at the beach carries a greater consideration of risk than it would ordinarily.
Before agreeing to lend a hand, weigh the potential hazards and logistics so you can make well-informed decisions about whether to take on the service asked of you.
Consider the personal risk
During the pandemic, many of us have wanted to offer a helping hand to communities in need, through donations to charities and small businesses, or by shopping for elderly neighbors or those who are vulnerable. However, not all requests come without risk.
In the past, a request to help plan a baby shower would have been a quick yes, but now there is much more to consider: Would helping to host the event require you to interact with many people? Have you potentially been exposed to the virus? Can you account for the other guests’ adherence to social distancing? Will the asker feel personally judged if you decline?
“These circumstances make saying no to these kinds of requests especially tricky because by saying no, we are essentially saying to the other person that they are doing something wrong by asking,” Dr. Bohns said.
She suggests creating a script for how you’ll turn down favors you feel carry too much risk. Whether your prepared statement includes explaining how the favor potentially exposes others is up to you, she said. “Whatever point you do or don’t want to make by declining, it helps to have thought of what you want to say in advance.”
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