Q. A while ago I asked a good friend to collaborate with me on a fundraising event. But lately I've been left holding the bag. What do you do when a group project becomes a solo responsibility?
--Clare P., New Haven, Connecticut
A. While your first instinct may be to fume privately, I advise against it (though it's a popular choice). Instead, take a minute to review the situation. When did you first feel like you were "holding the bag"? What did you ask of your friend, and what did she promise? Did you have her full attention, or was she distracted by her crying child? Did you give her a chance to decline or negotiate your request, or were you just telling her what to do? Was she clear on the specifics and scope of the project? This last bit is where people often get sloppy -- they're vague about what they need and then pass blame when it isn't done. Specificity is paramount. "Can you call them at some point?" leaves more room for interpretation than "Can you call them by 5 p.m. today?"
Once you've taken stock of what you originally asked for, talk to your friend about where you think the project got a little lost. It often feels easier to hold on to the resentment (thus the fuming privately), even to the point of losing a friend, than to ask "What happened?" But your honesty will let her share her side of the story. Our relationships deepen when we're willing to be human together, to share our mistakes and disappointments. Regardless of what promises were or weren't kept, you need to make any future requests crystal clear. Get specific about who's responsible for what and invite her feedback. Create a list of responsibilities and make a copy for your friend. This way, you can identify when either of you can't or doesn't keep her word, and get the project back on track.
Of course, if she's too busy to even meet or talk with you, that's an entirely different situation. Perhaps she can't admit when she's overcommitted or take responsibility for her choices. That's not your problem, though, especially when there's work to do. Tell her how you feel (disappointed, confused, let down), but don't shoulder the whole shebang by yourself -- ask for help elsewhere.
Text by Jennifer Louden
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