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Here's how to handle relationships when they become transactional, not supportive.

2 minute read

Shortly after college, I got a Facebook message from an old friend. I was excited when I saw who it was, and I was looking forward to catching up.

But I quickly realized that this wasn’t a social call. She was trying to sell me a gimmicky multi-level marketing product.

I was disappointed and a little hurt. It’s hard not to feel offended when someone tries to trade on your social currency to make a sale, and I’ve kept her at arm’s length ever since. It got me wondering: How do seemingly normal people get involved in these scams?

I can’t answer that question — although I assume lack of employment options and glorification of entrepreneur culture plays a part — but I know that these MLM ventures almost never yield positive results.

A paper from the Consumer Awareness Institute found that “failure and loss rates for MLMs are not comparable with legitimate small businesses, which have been found to be profitable for 39 percent over the lifetime of the business; whereas less than 1 percent of MLM participants profit.”

Chances are, you probably have a friend who’s fallen prey to an MLM business scheme. Here’s how you can deflect the sales pitch without losing the friendship.

How to get out of it

When a friend joins an MLM, you have to be on your guard. Any interaction is a sales opportunity for them, and a true salesman is always looking for an opening.

When declining a friend’s pitch, be firm in saying you don’t want to buy the product, but feel free to keep the reason benign. You may feel the urge to tell them why wrapping your body in plastic can’t get you six-pack abs, but it’s easier to deflect the situation entirely.

I use this instead: “Sorry, I’m not looking to spend money right now.” It’s not a lie. I’m generally very careful about what I purchase, and it’s harder for a salesman to argue against this reason.

Whatever your friend wants to sell you, find a real reason instead of coming up with a flimsy excuse, like saying you have sensitive skin if she’s shilling Mary Kay. Don’t promise to buy something later; be consistent in your refusal.

How to handle those relationships

Unfortunately, you have to decide early on if you’re going to confront your friend directly or if you’d rather not rock the boat. Some people might listen to your concerns that their new MLM business is a sham, but others will get defensive and cut off ties immediately.

The best course of action I’ve found is to ignore them whenever they talk about what they’re selling. If they mention how much more energized they feel with their special protein shakes, I nod and change the subject. I’m sure my passive aggressive attitude is obvious, but it’s less confrontational and still gets the point across.

If a friend keeps hounding you or tricks you into coming over for a LulaRoe party, it’s time to put your foot down. Explain that her constant requests are making you uncomfortable and you feel like she’s taking advantage of you to make a sale. Sometimes that conversation could end your friendship, but it’s better than spending money just to placate someone who sees you as a potential client instead of a friend.

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About the Author

Zina Kumok

Zina Kumok

Kumok is a personal finance freelance writer based in Denver, Colorado.

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