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What Are Some Tips for Dealing With a Flaky Friend?
A previous issue of this newsletter described some habits and behaviors of a flaky friend that can drive us up a wall. Here, we offer some actionable tips for dealing with a flaky friend.
The options for handling a flaky friend are limited, especially if the friend is consistently irksome and unreliable.
Each of the three approaches listed below has some drawbacks, but they may be worth a try. If all else fails, you may need to cut ties and end the friendship entirely.
Try to overlook your friend’s irritating and grating behavior. Will overlooking work? It might… or it could backfire because:
You will continue to feel uncomfortable, anxious, and angry each time your friend lets you down.
You won’t have the opportunity to offer your friend the feedback she needs to change (and you need to get off your chest!) Without hearing what she’s doing wrong, it’s likely she’ll repeat the same behavior, disappointing you again and again.
Forgiving might work if the lapses are occasional and come with somewhat sincere reasons. Some valid reasons to forgive flaky behavior include:
Extenuating circumstances may cause someone to behave in ways that appear flaky, but are understandable once you dig deeper. For example, your friend is a caregiver for a disabled child or ill parent, and those overwhelming responsibilities have to come first.
Your friend may be dealing with an emotional problem (like social anxiety or depression) that makes it difficult for her to follow through on commitments.
You realize that your friend doesn’t have the physical energy to hold up her part of the friendship right now.
Obviously, her judgment is off; she's making decisions based on impulse rather than solid thinking.
Confronting a flaky friend may sometimes work when your friend lacks awareness of how her behavior is affecting others.
Confronting doesn’t mean being confrontational. Instead, it means being honest and upfront in a calm, caring, and forthright manner.
Be specific in describing the situation(s) that disappointed you.
Tell your friend what she did and explain how it made (makes) you feel.
Offer her a chance to explain. Asking her why she thinks this is happening can force her to confront her own behavior. Also, this may help you determine whether she is totally self-centered or, instead, recognizes she’s being unfair to you (and probably others).
Ask her to be more respectful of her commitments to you because you value the friendship and don’t want it to be compromised.
Bear in mind that old habits die hard and you may have to have the same talk more than once.
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What are some tools to help you avoid flaky friends?
You may not be able to change your friend, but you can change the way you deal with her. Here are some strategies that can help:
Set boundaries. Let your friend know in advance that your time is as valuable to you as her time is to her.
Create consequences. Tell her that you'll leave if you agree to meet for dinner and she’s not there within 10 to 15 minutes of the reservation and doesn’t have the courtesy to call.
Avoid making long-term plans. Why put a deposit on a tour or purchase an airline ticket when there’s a good chance your friend will cancel at the last minute and you’ll lose your money? Instead, look upon her as a spontaneous-type friend with whom you can do something at the last minute.
Diversify your friendships. Rather than setting yourself up to be constantly disappointed by her, rely on other, more dependable friends.
Set time limits. Minimize the time you spend together. Think through—and avoid— the circumstances that are most annoying.
Dilute the friendship. Only include the flaky friend in group plans so you’ll have other people around if she doesn’t show up.
When to end a friendship with a flaky friend
Ending a friendship is never easy, regardless of the situation or circumstances. There may be many aspects of the friendship that you appreciate and enjoy.
For example, although your friend may not be reliable, she’s fun, spontaneous, spunky and cheerful. You can tell her almost anything and she’ll understand.
If this is the case, step back rather than ending the friendship entirely. Either see the person less frequently or take a break from the friendship.
Pay attention to your feelings. Only you can gauge how much you’re willing to forgive or overlook if the other person isn’t willing or is unable to change. Ask yourself some questions:
How upsetting is this friendship?
What has been its trajectory over time? Is it getting better or worse?
How meaningful or important is this friendship?
Is this friendship worth my time, or is my time better spent with another type of friend?
Am I feeling a sense of desperation because I don’t have many other friends?
Am I willing to nurture other friendships that may potentially be more gratifying?
Overall, does this relationship provide more pain than gains or vice versa?
If you do need to end the friendship, try not to take it too personally. Even if you’re disappointed, don’t be too hard on yourself.
It’s entirely possible—and probable—that this friend behaves the same way with others.
Irene & Sheryl
Having a flaky friend can drive you to wit’s end. But if the friendship is worth saving, there are many strategies to help make it less upsetting and more tolerable.