How to Handle Unreliable Friends

Three Methods:Helping an Unreliable Friend ChangeConsidering Your OptionsDefining the Unreliable Behavior

Ever found that a certain friend often makes plans with you, only to break or change them at the last minute? If you have, chances are you have an unreliable friend. Such a person in your life can make you feel like your time and friendship aren’t valued. Learn how to deal with unreliable friends in a diplomatic manner.

Method 1
Helping an Unreliable Friend Change

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    Call out the behavior. Your friend is often inconsiderate of your time. You’re better off recognizing the problem for what it is than making excuses for this person. If you want to continue the friendship, but don’t want to put up with the behavior, your best option is to say something. Maybe shedding light on the bad behavior will provoke change.
    • You might say, “Hey, Carla. You always seem to bow out of our plans at the last minute without any explanation. That makes me feel like I’m not a priority as your friend. What’s up with that?”
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    Ask how you can help your friend improve. One way to lend a helping hand to an unreliable friend is to simply ask how you can help.[1] Your friend may already be aware of his or her unreliable behavior, but doesn't know how to change it. By showing that you care, you may be able to come up with a practical strategy to help overcome this issue.
    • Listen to your friend and hear what he or she has to say. Your friend may have some suggestions about how you can help. Or, he or she may just be glad you are willing to show support when it's needed. Only offer suggestions if your advice is requested. Remember, you are trying to be a good friend, not fix the problem for him or her.
    • Say something to the extent of "I see you struggle a lot to remember our plans. Is there something I can do to help you with that?"
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    Be clear about what you want and hold your friend accountable. Sometimes, when we are frustrated with people, we give them a big list of all the things we don't want.[2] This can lead to confusion and overwhelm. Instead, let your friend know exactly what you do want. Then, be sure to hold him or her accountable to meeting these expectations.
    • For example, tell your friend "I expect for you to be on time when we make plans. And, if for some reason you will not be on time, I expect for you to let me know as soon as possible."
    • If your friend agrees to meet this expectation, and then fails to do so, you must call him or her out on it. Say "I am on time for plans with you. I expect you to do the same, or I will let you know that I am upset about your being late."
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    Modify your expectations. You may choose to change your expectations of the friendship. If the friend is a good friend who has suddenly seen big changes is his or her life, you may just have to move past the fact that there are going to be missed events.[3]
    • As friends start to have committed relationships and families, you may see a sudden spike in your best friend suddenly just not showing up and not calling to say why. This can be a sign he or she is having troubles adjusting to young children and not ready to acknowledge the huge impact kids have on life. If the friendship is solid and valuable, it is worth it to you to just accept this change.
    • Part of being a true friend is accepting your friend for who he or she is and loving him or her anyway.

Method 2
Considering Your Options

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    Try to problem-solve together. You may choose to talk to this friend about the value of the relationship and how to make it better. If the friendship is worth saving but the behavior is something you just can’t live with, suggest that you and your friend brainstorm some solutions.[4]
    • Be prepared to either work on the relationship or go with the changes that result if things do not change. Friendships change and this might be a time where you start to grow apart.
    • Remember you both have different personalities and perceptions so take the time to have an honest dialogue about why you are friends, whether you want to continue the friendship, and how to go forward.
    • Be sure to tell your friend how much you love him or her and value the friendship. This isn’t about hurting feelings or blame; it is about making the friendship stronger because you see value in it.
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    Set personal boundaries. Whether it’s a relationship with a friend, romantic partner, or family member, all healthy relationships should respect the individual boundaries of each person involved.[5] If your friend is often unreliable, you may not have clearly set boundaries regarding what you are willing to accept and not accept in your friendships.
    • Put your well-being first and make sure that everyone in your life understands how you expect to be treated. Show them the same courtesy in kind. If the unreliable friend is often late, be assertive and tell him this is unacceptable. “Zack, every time we go out you’re nearly an hour late. I always show up when I say I will. I will stop making plans with you if this keeps happening.”
    • Setting clear boundaries about how you communicate and interact will help this process. It might just be a misunderstanding or something that happened unintentionally. But, once you make your boundaries clear, the behavior should improve.
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    Learn to work around your unreliable friend. Many people with unreliable friends who have proven incapable of changing simply learn to work around the problem. This might be a suggestion for you if you have tried to help your friend change and nothing seems to help. Ways to work around your friend may include:[6]
    • Never making plans with this friend alone. That way if he or she is late or bails, it won't ruin the entire outing.
    • Having someone else to wait with instead of being on your own
    • Anticipating that any plans with this friend probably won't go as expected
    • Not stopping what you're doing to wait for your friend's arrival. Tell the person to text or call when they're right outside
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    End the friendship. In an extreme case, you may just decide to end the friendship. If there isn’t a long-term friendship or you feel like this friend is not really invested in improving his or her behavior, this is probably the best move.[7]
    • If you feel like it is time to end the relationship, make a clean break without drama if that is possible. If this is a co-worker, agree to remain friendly but set a clear boundary about leaving the relationship strictly at work.

Method 3
Defining the Unreliable Behavior

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    Analyze the behavior. Try to figure out what your friend is trying to tell you through the behavior. Behavior is always communicating something; you just have to really look deep to see what your friend's behavior is signifying.[8]
    • Hiding anxiety or social phobias is one reason some people will avoid social situations at all costs. This would be the friend who seems nice and involved in things but at the last minute simply does not show up. He or she may not know how to tell you how scary social situations feel for him or her, and figure you are less likely to get hurt feelings by a no show.
    • A friend who comes up with excuse after excuse for not attending an event or even jokes about you overacting to a no-show may not really be a friend. In a normal relationship, if a friend misses an event for a real reason there would be an apology and a genuine concern for the resulting feelings.[9]
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    Clarify the extent of your relationship. There’s a chance a friend who is frequently unreliable may not be as committed to the relationship as you are. Perhaps you were hoping to turn a coworker or social acquaintance into a closer relationship, but this person hasn’t gotten the message. Find out where you stand with this person.
    • A flaky friend’s motives may also be tied to a lack of boundaries on your friendship. Some people prefer for example to leave work friends at work and will never socialize outside of the office. If this is the case, he or she may not feel comfortable making that clear so invites are accepted but never followed through. This does not mean this friend thinks any less of you—he or she just doesn’t mix business with pleasure so to speak.
    • A friend may seem to be unreliable is that he or she isn’t really a friend in the same light that you think the person should be. If a coworker is only friendly in front of others because of status or a perceived value in the friendship, you may have a social climber on your hands.[10]
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    Decide if there is an underlying problem. Part of how he or she got to the point of being that unreliable friend also includes the behavior after the problem. This may be as simple as acting like nothing happened because he or she forgets commitments or making a choice to act as if nothing happened.
    • The friend who always seems disorganized and forgets things in the office, loses documents and even misses work deadlines may have something more going on than skipping your event to be hurtful. If this is a new development for someone who is always well organized, this could indicate problems at home or a medical issue.[11]
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    Pinpoint the issue. It’s easy to say your friend is “flakey” or a whole list of negative descriptors, but what is the basic behavior you see as being negative? You may have a friend who just doesn’t show up to an event or is he or she simply forgetful?[12]
    • When you look at the specific behavior, also look at whether or not there is a pattern of behavior for you and for others. Are you the only friend he or she stands up or does the evasive behavior apply to many people in the office?
    • An unreliable friend may also fall into the category of only being your “friend” when it benefits him or her. This is a very different situation as it isn’t someone simply being forgetful but perhaps using the friendship for some sort of gain.
    • Defining the undesired behavior versus things that are just a part of your friend’s personality will help you deal with the situation. A friend who thrives on being spontaneous may seem unreliable because he or she will not commit to attending an event, which is very different from a friend who lies about attending an event he or she knows won’t happen.
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    Search for recurring problems. Is there a pattern to the behavior? Is your friend only flakey when it comes to social events or is he or she forgetful in different situations? Seeing a pattern in the behavior may show you an underlying cause of why he or she isn’t following through on commitments. If you can see a pattern when things are happening and when they are not you may find that the negative behavior actually has little to do with you.[13]
    • Is the negative behavior consistent or is the friend a good friend at times? If the friend is hiding a secret to explain the behavior he or she may be fine in some situations but not OK in others.
    • Is your friend a good meaning person who just seems to overbook to the point of disappointing others because they can’t say no?
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    Look beyond this single friendship to other relationships. Is this your only unreliable friends or does this seem to be a pattern in your life? Is there a chance you are taking things too personally for this one friend for some reason?[14]
    • There are times when you run into a friend that all of the sudden just gets on your nerves for some unknown underlying issue. This may play manifest with you focusing undo attention on behavior that is normally fine within your social circle.

Article Info

Categories: Friends | Handling Friendship Problems