My colleague keeps borrowing money from me – but never pays it back and it drives me crazy. It’s the odd £10 here for lunch because ‘I forgot my wallet’ or ‘Can you put £5 on the check out card for me I owe you? But she never does. He’s a nice person, but I added it up and it’s now £100. I don’t mean to sound tight, but how do I broach the subject of refunds?
– Love, Care
Gah! Silver! Has there ever been anything that has so insidiously blurred the lines between fact and feeling? Great if you’re one of those people who doesn’t have a complicated relationship with money, but most of the time it sets off emotional alarms in people like those pesky car alarms that go off in the wind. Many of us are in financial panic mode right now, with the cost of living crisis and looming recession on top of our general financial worry settings.
In many cases, it’s not just about budget and scarcity, but how you feel about the borrower and borrower. And that’s the funny tension with money – it’s never just about the money. Instead, it’s often about perception. Does this person take me for granted? Are they really forgetting me or treating me like their personal distributor? And, on the other hand, why am I getting in the knots about it? Why can’t I just request the refund? What is wrong with me
Lending money seems simple and harmless, but it has the potential to be complicated and dangerous. Once you find yourself in a negative loop about asking for a return, it can become another hook to snag our anxiety. “What if they start telling everyone I’m mean, or tight, or uptight, if I ask for money?” “What if they get mad and yell at me?”
So hang on to this thread of common sense: it’s your money. If your coworker borrowed your chair for a minute, and after an hour you were still standing at your computer, you’d feel vulnerable, exposed, and a little silly — but you’d also be looking backwards for your chair. It’s time to get your chair back.
We have a few suggestions. The one thing all conflict resolution manuals have in common is the advice on finding neutral territory for conversation: no peeking over desks or loitering in office doors, and whatever you do, don’t send a “we need to talk” or “can I have a quick word?” email that just puts people on the defensive and should be banned.
Wait until you meet in the hallway or near the communal kettle, then chat. You can do this in two ways. The first is the direct approach with an element of emotion: “I’m taking budgeting seriously at the moment (aren’t they all?) and noticed that you owe me £100. I would really appreciate your refund.
Or you can try a slightly more vague approach like “I feel a little weird and I don’t know how best to approach things with you – because it’s all money and I really love you – but lately you’ve borrowed £100 and I’d love to get it back’.
With trusted friends, there comes a time when you stop counting because of reciprocity – it’s a drink here or a movie ticket here; shared experiences make the math work. But that doesn’t seem to apply to you: your relationship is purely professional and we think you should treat it accordingly.
The office environment, like that of the family, is another space where we tend to have roles imposed on us – like the office mother or the hungover naughty girl – and we can see why you may have -to be liked at first to be “the repairer” but now I don’t want to be attributed the role of “the one of Scroogy”.
Neutralize emotional tension and fear of judgment because otherwise it will start to take root. His financial fragility might be a problem – but that’s not your problem. It’s time to put on your big girl pants, Attention, and get what’s rightfully yours.