How To Tell Your Friend They Suck

Your brain has opinions.

You intercept 500 billion stimuli every day. By virtue of bandwidth, you naturally ignore some of these stimuli, give priority to others, and your brain parses less than a tenth of a percent of those. Point being—we’re built to discern and to judge.

But sometimes those judgements (e.g. the fact that you don’t want to recommend your friend’s resumé) get in the way of friendships or collaboration with coworkers. As an old friend of mine once said: “Silence is a response.” 

Oftentimes in order to minimize the potential damage to ourselves, we retreat. We hope that ignoring the problem will allow it to smooth itself out naturally. But this is neither helpful nor heroic. So what do you do?


1. Put it in a sentence

Clearly pinpoint the exact location of your disconnect and get it down to one sentence. I follow this rule religiously when providing feedback to team members.

“We’d like to improve click-through on our homepage Case Studies by 10%.”

It’s going to take a few revisions for all of the information to flow naturally and clearly. But by forcing yourself to present the problem in one phrase means you can only include relevant and critical information. This also eliminates the possibility that someone reads your diatribe, but still doesn’t know how to help you or fix it.

“People aren’t really clicking on our Case Studies. They are on certain areas of the site, but the homepage is the worst. I’m getting pressure to grow that click-through significantly but I’m not sure how we should go about doing that.”


Be actionable, direct, and succinct. You’ll find down the line that if your problems can be reduced to a sentence, then the solution probably can as well.

2. Give them the chance

You can’t change the fact that your friend with the awful resumé isn’t Steve Jobs, and you can’t solve every problem solo.

While in college, I competed on a dance team and we had a major competition coming up. A potential client reached out with a HUGE opportunity for me, but it overlapped with an important rehearsal. Afraid of having to choose between the two, and definitely preferring once option of the other, I asked my Mom how to pitch it to my dance leadership.

“Trust people to do their job.”

She told me to explain the situation, express my true feelings of excitement around the opportunity, and also express my remorse for reneging on my commitment to the team and our competition. So I did. I gave the problem to the people who were put in a position to solve them, and trusted them to help me through it.

They suggested I schedule a training session after the rehearsal I missed with another teammate, and go for the new opportunity.

By giving the problem to our leadership – who were charged with solving these kinds of issues – we arrived at a working solution. They understood where I was coming from and were supportive, but also showed me a path to satisfying my commitment.

Win. Win.

3. Do it

We’ve all been there – we let it go for so long that it’s not really appropriate to deal with it anymore.

Or is it?

One of the reasons why I love working at Three29 is because my personal philosophies align so closely to our company culture. We believe that it’s never too late for honesty and communication, especially on topics that were either never fully resolved or are painful to bring up.

Much like going to the gym, calling that *one* person back, or trying to resolve conflict, the hardest step is often the first. But if you’ve reduced your problem to one sentence and trust the people whom you interface with, the heavy lifting is already done. Removing the guilt, fear, and confusion into one crystalized problem is half the battle. Now you just need to ride the wave down.

Whether it feels like it’s too late or it’s been drawn out for too long, it’s always the perfect time to communicate with clarity and integrity.


And don’t forget to use your words

Interpersonal communication is a lot like Account Management. You’ve got a careful balance of push & pull, and many feelings and opinions at play. But the most successful results are derived when collaboration occurs, so go for it. Your feedback might be the exact advice your buddy was waiting for.

And who knows? They could land a job because of you. Your presentation of the click-through issue could solve a real problem for your company. At the end of the day, I believe people are grateful for honesty.


Never forget that helping people is rooted in love, and it’s always good to pass that around.

Related Blogs