2 responses that will save you time and energy

friendsWe all want to be good friends and listen when someone we care about has a problem. However, you don’t always have time to listen for hours. There’s also the problem of friends who want to complain and never do anything differently. Listening to their never-ending problems can be really draining.

I have found that these two responses help save time and make sure that the person you’re talking to is as invested in their situation as you are.

“Can you remind me of this in a week?”

I get lots of friends asking me for feedback on their work. In more than one case, I read the work, spent hours writing a critic and then when I got back to them their response was “Oh, actually I’ve changed my mind and I’m working on something else. Would you mind looking at that instead?”

Man oh live!

Now when someone sends me something, I write “‘I’d love to look this over, but I’m busy right now, so can you remind me in a week?” If it’s not important enough for them to remember to remind me, than it’s not important enough for me to spend time on it.

“How are you going to handle that?”

I learned this gem from The Living Course. People love to complain. They can do it for hours. Sometimes they don’t realize they’re doing it. Asking this simple question stops the complainer in their tracks. It makes them concentrate on how they’re responsible for making the changes that will make them happier. Nothing I can say will make a difference. They are the ones who have to take action. If they start going into excuses about how they can’t handle it because it’s not in their hands, ask “how will you handle the fact that it’s out of your control?”

I hope these help you save time and energy. Let me know if you have any other responses that help you.


  1. Great advice! Both options let you take a step back and gather your thoughts instead of giving a snap answer. Reminds me of a few years ago – I finished my term on our church governing board, and was responsible for finding a replacement. I called one lady who turned me down so nicely I haven’t forgotten it yet. Her response went something like this: I’m flattered you thought of me, but I’m unable to help out at this time. I’ve used that a couple times myself, and it works very well. Good ideas, Tracy!


    1. Thank you! I love how that response is friendly but straight to the point – there’s no need to make a bunch of excuses.


  2. These are great ideas, thanks for sharing them. I love the first one. I am going to try that especially with people I know will not get back with me. They will just find someone else to bug. Another thing I have a hard time with is someone who is always negative. That type of person who meets you on Friday and always, always wants to tell you about everything bad that happened that week (every time you meet them). I often stop them about Tuesday and say, “Sounds rough, I’m just curious, did any good things happen this week?” Often that gets them thinking differently and the conversation changes.


    1. I love that positive redirecting. Sometimes when I’m around a really negative person, I start the conversation off with “so, tell me about the best part of your week.”
      This is just slightly related, but one of the best pieces of relationship advice I got was to never ask “how was your day?” Instead, ask “what was the most challenging part of your day?” “when did you feel most appreciated today?” or “Did anything funny happen today?” These questions can steer the person into a much more meaningful conversation.


  3. I do think you need to measure the responses with the individual and situation. To have a pat answer for everyone may not always be the best response. When my son was ill, and even now in the aftermath as I am beginning to gather my wits and move forward again, I needed to vent. I didn’t need to solve the problem or be made to feel like I was complaining. I just needed to blab it out there.

    Absolutely there are times when being able to have a ready response and answer is necessary– you cite good examples. But other times, just being a heart with ears can be incredibly healing, even if the person is verging a bit on complaining. 😉


    1. I wouldn’t put your situation in the same category as what I was talking about. You definitely needed your friends and it would have been incredibly insensitive for them to give you a canned response. I hope your son is all better.
      The response of “how will you handle that” is for people who constantly complain about petty things and never do anything about it.


  4. I think I’ll be picking up that second one. It really bugs me when you have to spend a lot of time with the kind of person who constantly complains without showing any inkling of pro-activity on how to better their situation (there’s one in my office who drives me up the wall).
    Also, I’m aware of the irony that I am complaining about people who complain… :/


  5. Tracy,

    Thanks for the post. How to handle people that want your time is really important – because your time is limited and valuable.

    There are a lot of people that want to talk about an issue they are having, but they don’t really want to solve the issue. They just want to talk, and have someone listen. Traditionally, men have thought this of women (right or wrong I’m not sure).

    Telling someone you don’t have the time now and can we set a date in the future to have the discussion is an honest approach. As you say, often the individual will after a few days forget about the issue or move onto something else. Ultimately, you have to decide how much time investment to make (and what do you get something back in return) with this person.

    Your second point is very much in-line with what a mentor does. A mentor works with a mentee so that the mentee solves their own problem. In fact, a good mentor leads the mentee to a solution that the mentee discovers. It’s really powerful stuff. Of course, it only works if the mentee actually wants to solve the problem. (Here’s a link to a piece I wrote on mentoring that sums it up: http://wp.me/pxFBQ-dJ called “Mentoring for Change” ).

    Anyway, nice post and both your suggestions really made me think (which is good!).

    All the best. DM


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