How do you reply to a friend or colleague you trust and respect but do not know how to help? I believe starting with the truth is the best way forward. Sounds easy but do we observe it? The important thing is the respect and trust you have for each other. Don’t do anything to injure that. Your friend deserves your support and encouragement , and if appropriate constructive criticism.

An example would probably help here.

I was recently contacted by a client who had received a request from a friend for any introductions or contacts he could supply to help his new business. My client was in a quandary: he really respected his friend and believed in what he was doing, something that he thought was right for his friend and a good idea. He was frustrated however as he was not sure that he could immediately help him. That frustrated and embarrassed him. He wanted to help but in the absence of no introductions he was tempted not to reply at present.

We first of all discussed what he thought his friend would expect of him. His friend was clearly hoping that he might have a lead that would result in new business but would he expect it? Through conversation we eventually agreed that his friend could and would value a reasonably prompt reply to his email. That much the relationship warranted. He was being noticed at a time he was a bit vulnerable starting a new business. We also agreed that the relationship was such that his friend could reasonably expect him to try, taking into account his other commitments.

That conversation led us to drafting a reply that he was comfortable to send.

“Dear X,

Thank you for your recent email telling me of your new plans. I think that they really play to your hustoric strengths and I am sure they will find a willing market. I have had a think and I unfortunately I cannot think of any leads I could suggest at the moment. I wanted to reply and tell you that and I will keep your details to mind and if anything does occur to me, or present itself, then I will refer it to you. Do keep me updated as things progress, it will also be a good prompt to remind me. I wish you all the best…”

My client was happy to run with this, he liked sending a prompt response even if there was nothing at present he could do. He wanted his friend to understand the position. He was genuine in wanting to help him but recognised he could be also be forgetful so encouraged his friend to keep prompting him. I believe he showed his friend the respect he deserved and told the truth about what he could do. I am sure that is all his friend expected.