Sense & Sensitivity by Harriette Cole

Advice-Giver Shouldn't Give Away Too Much for Free

DEAR HARRIETTE: I give advice for a living and have done well for myself. I am often invited to speak at conferences and am usually well received. What I am unsure of is where to draw the line when people ask me for advice randomly. At these functions, someone almost always comes up to me with a problem. If it is simple, I respond -- in part because that's the reason I was invited to be there in the first place. The least I can do is give back to people. But often it feels like a drain, like the people really should be hiring me rather than just sponging off of me. How can I strike a balance between being generous and charging for my services? -- Strike a Balance, Los Angeles

DEAR STRIKE A BALANCE: I am a big believer in giving a certain amount of my time and talent to those in need. I agree that it is part of the experience, especially when you work in the field of coaching others. But really, it is true with anything.

That said, you do need to know where to draw the line. When you are in a public setting and someone approaches you, agree to speak for a few minutes, up to five or 10 if you have enough privacy for that long. After agreeing to a brief conversation, tell the person that if he or she wants to talk longer, the person should consider formally contacting your office to schedule an appointment for a consultation and/or coaching session. Using words like that should signal that this would become a professional engagement.

If the person is persistent in the moment, be prepared to say you hope that what you offered thus far will be helpful, but you have to stop now. If the person wants to continue working with you on the subject at hand, feel free to schedule an appointment. Be firm and gracious at once. That will reflect your professionalism.

DEAR HARRIETTE: Every time my brother gets a little money, he blows it on stupid stuff. Instead of paying his rent, he buys tickets to the ball game. Or he might take his girlfriend on an extravagant date or even go shopping. I'm not kidding. He does this when at the same time he complains of bill collectors hounding him about being delinquent. And then he has the nerve to ask me to bail him out when he runs out of cash a few days later. I love my brother, but I'm done with his shenanigans. I don't want to help him next time. Even though he is my brother, I'm tired of his negligence. -- Fed Up, Shreveport, La.

DEAR FED UP: Before your brother goes broke again, contact him and tell him you want to talk -- preferably face-to-face. Let him know that you are concerned about his financial choices. Tell him you have observed how he spends money when he gets it and how often he is broke. Based on what you know, tell him you cannot help him financially anymore. Yes, you love him, but you cannot finance his bad habits.

Perhaps your candor will help to shake him into reality.