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The Help-Decliner’s Dilemma: How to Decline Requests for Help at Work without Hurting One’s Image
Keywords: Organizational Citizenship Behavior/Prosocial Behavior; Perception/Attribution; Interpersonal/Relational Processes
Abstract: Help-giving, defined as providing assistance or support to others, enhances the impression others have of oneself at work. Yet, some scholars have warned of the perils of engaging in help-giving. Agreeing to too many requests can result in overload, decreased well-being, and decreased task performance because individuals have limited time. As such, potential helpers may sometimes need to decline to the dismay of help-seekers. In this paper, we argue that help-decliners face a dilemma: How can they decline a request for help without besmirching the impression fellow organizational members have of them and subsequently diminishing those members’ desire to interact with them in the future? We explore this help-decliner’s dilemma across four studies, and find that the best way to decline is to defer fulfilling the request to the future. In doing so, we introduce a more balanced understanding of helping that accounts for the challenges help-decliners face.