My friend Elisia asked me to help her move. Moving is one of my least favorite activities (which partially explains why I live in an RV), but I gladly agreed to help. Why? Because she followed the golden rules of asking favors. If you want people to do you favors, or, more importantly, feel good about doing you favors, make sure you follow these rules. They're written from the point of view of someone asking me for a favor, but I would also follow them when asking favors of others.
1. Your Benefit Must Greatly Outweigh My Inconvenience
If you're asking me for a favor it should be something that I am particularly good at or well suited for. If a friend of mine asks me to help him set up a blog, I'm happy to do it because it's something I have experience with and am good at. What could take my friend five hours to set up, I might be able to do in thirty minutes.
The same goes for favors where I'm in the right place at the right time, even if I don't have specific skills for the job. If a friend asks me to pick up some bananas while I'm at Whole Foods, I'm more than happy to do it. If he asks me to pick up bananas while I'm home in the middle of writing something, that's a ridiculous request.
2. You Should Make it as Easy as Possible for Me to do the Favor
Earlier this year the Austin Society asked me to give a short talk on pickup. Besides following rule number one, they also immediately offered to pick me up and drop me back off after the speech. That shows that they value the favor and are willing to do what they can to minimize my inconvenience.
When I arrived at my friend from the first paragraph's house, she had everything boxed and ready to go. She offered to load it all into my RV and unload it by herself. I helped her load and unload, but appreciated that she was trying to make it as easy as possible for me. Imagine if I had gotten there and had to wait around for hours as she boxed up her stuff. That's what "helping me move" usually means.
3. Ask immediately, Don't Small Talk
If you're going to ask for a favor, just ask. The worst is when someone makes small talk for five minutes and then says, "Oh, by the way... can you watch my dog while I'm out of town?". That feels like I'm being used. This one just happened to Todd, who reminded me of it.
The same goes for doing preemptive favors in order to obligate someone. "Here are some cookies I made you. Any way I can borrow your computer?".
4. Do Everything You Can First
If someone has tried to solve a problem but can't, I'm happy to help them. If they haven't even tried, I'm annoyed.
People email me asking for travel or pickup advice all the time. If they've bought my book first, I'm happy to answer their questions. If they're asking me stuff that I've already taken the time to write down in the book, I'm offended. You're willing to take up my time, but not willing to pay me for my work?
The most common manifestation I see of this is in airport rides. Taxis are ridiculous, as are shuttles, so I'm usually really happy to pick people up from the airport. An hour of my time can save them a lot of money and hassle.
In Austin you can take a shuttle from the airport to downtown for fifty cents. Taking the shuttle and having me pick you up downtown saves me half an hour of driving or more. If someone wants me to pick them up from the airport but doesn't offer to take the shuttle, they're basically valuing my time at one dollar an hour. Disrespectful!
(There's one person reading this who MIGHT take this the wrong way -- that was a different set of circumstances, though!)
Don't be the person who asks for favors but never does them for others. It's old fashioned, but I always try to send people gifts or at least a thank you card if they do me a favor. If you stay at someone's house for a week, thus saving several hundred dollars, the least you can do is have some small present shipped to them. The idea isn't necessarily to compensate them for their hospitality, but rather to show that you don't take it for granted.
I'm not some sort of weird favor miser who only does people favors if they follow the rules exactly, and you probably aren't either. But I am more likely to do someone a favor if they are considerate about it, and much more likely to be happy about doing it.
I almost didn't post this, thinking it's common sense and doesn't need to be said, but it's been on my mind because I've seen a few bad favor askers recently.
great post. It would be great to hear how you say no and maintain friendships etc with people who do not have your common sense.
I have a friend who knows I AM in the middle of moving into a new apartment. She has a pick-up, never offered to help, but that's fine. The thing is, she called to small talk me and THEN she said she wanted to hang out. I said I can't. She said "but I need your help preparing food for my party on Saturday."
WOW. She said "omg, you're still not done moving?" I said, no.. Not with a Chevy Aveo. The movers are just picking up the big stuff. SHe had the guts to ask what time? SHe wanted me to help her cook food from scratch on the day I PLANNED ON having the movers move my stuff, when I'm supposed to move everything into the new apt and then come back the ff day to clean up the apt. She knows, I told her I'm busy and what irritates me is that she has the guts to ask for favors!
I am going out of town and asked a friend if they would give my husband eye drops (once a day) for 2 days. They said they were "uncomfortable" and would pass on this . I was greatly hurt as I didn't think this was a big deal and wouldn't take her out of her way for more than 1 minute for each day. Your thoughts?
I really enjoyed this. Good post Tynan!
I know my biggest fault is in "asking right away." I HATE when a friend doesn't call for weeks, then calls and makes five minutes of small talk before asking a favor.
But it also seems rude to me to just be like "Hey John, long time no see. Can you help me move Saturday? Thanks bye!"
Any good ideas on how to get right to the point like you advise but not come off as rude?
Great post. I realize recently that for decades I have done favours for friends but, when I recently have been in need of favour, those I did most for - and who ironically could most easily are most particularly suited to help me out now - aren't offering to 'do me a favor' whereas those who I have never done favour for are the people who are coming forward and offering to assist. Eye-opening. I think it might also be cultural. Certain cultural types - either from or who spend a lot of formative years in New England area of USA - are those I am discovering won't do a favour especially if involves money but they will ask for help making their money.
I'm from NYC area and we were raised to always help one another out, whether it's a cup of sugar, car, extra bedroom for someone else's house guests, money, we give what we can.
Awesome,, thanks I thought it was just normal for people to act that way but it's not. How stupid is my thinking. I'm tired of feeling used,, thanks for posting.. Pls post up more. Looking forward to read more.
Excellent points, Tynan - esp regarding moving which can take up most of a day, not to mention the back-breaking work!
dude, I've been thinking about this the whole week after letting a friend crash at my place the second time this year (broke rule #3, but usually follows #1), while also telling someone else I won't have time to help him with hack something (he breaks rule 5, and offends me in that he never gives me credit if I spend time helping him)
Now, let me attempt to put these rules in the peg system:
one bun - benefits outweigh the my inconvenience. visions of me only buying cheap buns to complete an expensive sandwich
two shoe - make it as easy as possible. give me shoes to help me walk there, instead of being barefoot.
three tree - immediately ask - a tree that springs up quickly, instead of lingering about slowly
four door - prepare yourself before knocking on the door when asking for a favor
five hive - reciprocation - best image i can think of is bees running around the hive, constantly crossing each other and exchanging.
The favor you ask for should be somewhat comparable to the favors you give. If you give me a ride home from work most days of the week, it's fair of you to ask me to pick you up at the airport, help you move, or write a personal letter of reference. Time and effort traded roughly equally for time and effort. But to ask, and expect, me to co-sign a loan, borrow my credit card, or to sponsor your citizenship to the US because we carpool? Well that's over-reaching. I'd rather just take public transportation. Thoughts?
This is a crucial factor in asking for a favor in my book. Please don't ask me to pick you up from a strip club when you know perfectly well my girlfriend doesn't want me anywhere near one. And at least have the discretion to ask me in private. Even if you were a part-time jewelry thief, I would never ask you to do anything illegal --asking me for a favor that would break the law reveals your insanity.
Asking inappropriate favors like these can end a friendship or prevent one from developing.
Actually many of these points helped drive home a lesson I teach Junior High Special Education children. "Asking a Favor" is part of a curriculum, SkillStreaming (McGinnis). The points about "convenient' and "reciprocal" are wonderful add-ons. I also add "Is it ethical?" Of course, I don't expect them to use the words "convenient, ethical and reciprocal" but the ideas are golden!
When you travel with someone for a year or two, you pick up their habits. One of Todd's habits that I most admire, and am thankful to have picked, up is the practice of treating strangers like friends. When he goes to a restaurant and the waiter asks him how he is, he tells him what's going on in his life and returns the question in such a way that it obligates a genuine response. When we leave a restaurant, everyone we know gets a hug.
I get nostalgic, mostly for times I wasn't alive for. Like the middle ages. And, more relevantly, like the days before computers and cell phones, when neighbors actually recognized each other, and maybe even talked to each other. Shopkeepers were called shopkeepers, and they knew their customers by name. Their conversations extended beyond a scripted sales pitch for a rip-off extended warranty. I miss these times because I've seen them in movies and read about them in books, not because I've really experienced them.
Simple habits can be profound. One such habit that is more important than ever is to treat strangers like friends. Facebook, cell phones, and other "social" technologies have done to friendship what laminate flooring did for hardwood floors. It made things easier and more accessible, but did so at the cost of substance. In fact, this is happening in pretty much every area of life, something I've realized more fully now that I'm trying to find meat with substance; it's almost impossible. So I try to treat everyone as though they're a real person, just in case they actually are. Unfortunately I can't answer all my email anymore, but when I do I try to write to the person as if they're my friend, rather than use stock replies (which I could do, since a lot of the things people write about are similar). Once in a while I even fill someone in on secret future plans or send them a draft of something. When interacting with random people in everyday life, I make an effort to actually listen to them and to talk about things that they may not have talked about with every person they've interacted with that day.
I've been telling everyone I work with to stop acting like other people are doing you favors, and instead just be completely virtuous and then note that you're doing a favor for them if you approach them to work together. This got a little pushback, with one team member saying, "Can we rephrase it as "Don't come across like you're asking for something from a position below them, talk to people as if you're on equal standing and in a mutually beneficial relationship with them"?" Here's my reply -
So, I played Dungeons and Dragons when I was 12 years old. Great game, lots of fun. You get to have storytelling and roll dice and it's really just neat.
But I remember one time, I was confused that there was a "treasure table" that was roughly the same for all characters. Meaning, good characters and evil characters got the same amount of gold/treasure/magic items/whatever.
That didn't make any sense to me. The heroes were famous and loved by society, the villains were evil and wretched and spent all their time chasing gold, so certainly the villains should at least wind up with more gold, right?
And my DM - Dungeon Master - said no, that's not the case. The evil person plots and schemes all the time, and gets gold that way. The good person just does right for everyone, and thus the grateful villager or king gives them gold and magic weapons and whatever.