When Telling a Friend “No” (and Why) is the Kindest Option

Have you ever looked at a project and asked yourself “how did their friends let them do this? Didn’t they talk to anyone?”

Most of us want to help our friends with their projects and passions. If a buddy comes to us and asks if we’ll write or draw or whatever, our instinct is to say “yes” because they’re our friends. Then we look at what it is and if it’s a train wreck, we freeze, then plow forward with helping them anyway. Maybe we manage to right it from “WTF?” to “meh”. Maybe we just quietly fade into the background. Maybe we send a “got really busy unexpectedly and can’t help after all” message.

But do any of those approaches actually help the friend in question understand why it was a train wreck in the first place and how to prevent it from happening again? Or is it just a layer of plaster over a crumbling wall?

I was recently invited to work on a project with a couple of well respected designers. After looking at their design doc and what the finished product would and would not discuss, I had to say no. What they wanted to do was absolutely antithetical to everything I’ve tried to do in gaming, namely completely whitewash history.

Now, there was a point in my career in gaming that the thought of turning down a big name designer and friend would have given me hives and sent me questioning myself for days, but as I’ve grown and settled into my convictions (or just accepted that I have to allocate my fucks better or I’ll constantly be out of fucks) it’s become easier for me to stand up for myself and what I believe in.
So, as kindly as I could, I said no. But more importantly, I told them why. I want my friends to succeed. I don’t want to see them being dragged for a poor decision if telling them not only that it was a bad idea but why I felt it was a bad idea could prevent it. They hopefully went back to the drawing board with my concerns in mind, but if they don’t change anything I’ll likely have to speak up, louder this time, and probably more publicly.

So the next time your friend asks you for help and you see they’re getting ready to make a colossal fuck up, maybe pull them aside and say something. Give them a “call in” before the rest of the world gives them a “call out”.