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Friday Philosophy – The Abuse of Favours March 30, 2012

Posted by mwidlake in Friday Philosophy, humour, Perceptions, rant.
Tags: , , ,

You probably all recognise this situation:

Dave needs something doing that he can’t do himself – let’s say it is creating an API for the file management package. It isn’t your job to do but it is something you can do. Dave is blocked until the API is created.

So, being a nice person, you tell Dave you will see what you can do for him over the next couple of days.

So why is it that what Dave hears is “Dave, I love you more than life itself, I am dedicated to this task and I WILL complete it before the end of tomorrow. My other tasks, emergency production issues and the untimely demise of my cat are all secondary to this endeavour.”.

You see, 24 hours later, Dave is at your desk “When will this be done?! I’m blocked until I get this!!!”. If he’s the guy I had recently his next step is to slap his fist into his palm as he utters, almost shouts “I NEED this!”.

No. No you don’t need it. What you need is for that slap to be in your face, followed by “wake up! You don’t go shouting at the guy digging you out the hole!”.

I find this particularly unacceptable when the favour is to be fixing some mess that Dave created, or doing something Dave told his boss he had finished last week. Of course, those are the exactly situations where Dave is most likely to get upset, as he is in real trouble and most likely to commit that ultimate Favour sin:-

Dave to Boss “I Didn’t get my task done as Martin promised to create the API and he hasn’t. I’d be there now if I only did it myself”.

If you are thinking “Hmmm, I think I might have been ‘Dave’ recently” then Shame On You and go beg forgiveness. Of course, if you were ‘Dave’ you may well be the sort of sod who will twist the situation around in your head so it was not your fault anyway. Grrr, bad Dave.

For a while I gave up doing work favours as I got sick of the situation above playing out. Then I started doing favours again but being a bore about saying repeatedly, up front, that this was a favour, it was only if I had time, not to rely on me and, if it is that important, go ask someone else. Yeah, sounds really grumpy doesn’t it? That gave me a reputation for not being a Team Player (which is code for “mug”).

Now I have a rule system. As soon as someone starts getting demanding about the favour, I immediately challenge it. If they get shouty they lose their favour rights. No more favours for you until the requisite number of beers have been bought. It’s three.

Of course, you see this scene played out on help forums all the time. Initial message is nearly always in upper case text speak “PLS HLP ME, IS URGNT! CN U TELL ME HOW 2 DO MY JOB – THNX!!!” and soon degrades into helfull person asking for details of the exact person and Mr Shouty demanding more and more help. I don’t help. After all, this guy is never going to buy me a beer.



1. Jeffrey Kemp - March 30, 2012

(a) It’s helpful being a contractor for an client that is quite strict about charging every bit of work to the appropriate department / project code. Whenever anyone asks me for a “favour” I ask them for the project code. That forces them to find out what the project code is, and who can authorise budget funds to cover it.
– in other words, my manager doesn’t want me doing “favours” for anyone – he’s jealous of my time.

(b) I tell them my time management method is all based around emails. “Ok, but please send me an email so I can add it to my queue of work.” That forces them to go back to their seat, and describe the work in writing – perhaps thinking a little deeper about the requirements as well. Also, it makes them aware that I have a queue of work requests.

mwidlake - March 30, 2012

Good points. I’m all for helping people but sometimes you need to make people aware that there is a cost and sometimes we are not in a position to help.

I can feel a blog post coming on that talks about one of the difference between being a consultant and a contractor.

jgarry - March 30, 2012

“The difference between a consultant and a contractor is the consultant got $200/hr… once… for one hour… ” – me, 10 years ago on cdos, and it was old then.

I also do the email trick, which is anathema to my boss, whom I can’t ignore, so I make an exception there, but of course he isn’t asking for favors, even if they are presented to him as such.

I’ve long had a problem with being too enthused and helpful about this stuff – the secret is to turn it around so that isn’t a problem. That can be hard with me being a limited resource. “Send me an email” is a pretty good metering device. “Give me a project code” is a better defensive device, effectively saying “no,” or “justify it.”

When I had a support job, I had trouble saying no when customers asked for obvious things that I agreed with. Talking with my boss about it, I couldn’t stop myself from saying “if I were a woman, I’d have 20 kids.” That’s a common example used in sexual harassment education seminars. He literally put his hands over his ears and said “nodon’tsayit.”


2. Neil Chandler - March 30, 2012

Help no-one! Hoard information! Make it impossible for them to let you go! Protect your (employment) contract!

Personally, I find simply being good at your job helps with your employment status. Do unto others…

and talking of owing beers, Mr Widlake, I think you owe me enough to throw in a liver transplant for free. 🙂

Happy Friday.


mwidlake - March 30, 2012

Rule one of contracting, help no one.

Rule one of being a decent person. Help everyone. Except those who won’t help everyone.

As for beers, you have me banged to rights sir; I owe you a whole shed load of beers for being so nice to me lately.

3. oraclebase - March 30, 2012

Martin: Welcome to my world!

4. bigdaveroberts - April 1, 2012

I’m a Dave all the time!

OTOH getting missed delivery dates being escalatted to my manager before they get agreed with me sounds like a similar issue.

mwidlake - April 2, 2012

“Dave” is the standard name for Caucasian Males who work in IT. Any IT department in the UK, US, USA (and probably half a dozen more places across the global) that have more than 6 employees has someone called Dave. For all other locations the rules are different – the team size is 8 before you have a Dave.

As for the not-agreed-delivery-dates – noooooo, that is a whole other type of abuse in the workplace. Worth an FF all on it’s own.

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