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.
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.
The thinks you never thunk you'd think....
Well good morning everyone. I was having a conversation with a dear friend of mine and she said the silliest thing. She said and I am quoting here, “I'll have kids when I'm ready.” and I started to laugh because trust me... mine is 23 and I'm still not ready! You aren't EVER ready to learn all of the things kids can teach you. Am I talking spiritual, inspirational and lovely little cutesy things they say like, “If fairies light up can we make one a night light?” NO! I am talking real kids here!
You are never ready for all the crap that they teach you because this is info you don't ever think you'll need and then can't imagine why you do! These are things like how to explain why we don't put peanut butter on the toilet seat! Horrid things like how to get lollipops off of the dog. You start asking yourself ignorant questions. Crazy things you never thought you'd hear yourself think. Things like... Why in the hell don't they make a Barbie that flushes down properly? Sickening things like, “Why is it only the most expensive Ninja Turtle that destroys the garbage disposal? Are the others less Ninja? And if they are Ninja why does the plumber tell me he sees them every week?”
As a parent you are never prepared people! That's just what they tell you so that the race doesn't end! You will inevitably end up walking around mumbling the most ignorant questions that you really NEED the answer to. Queries such as, “Well I don't really know if my mouth would fit around a doorknob. Can I put it on a resume?” You might even google the place where cootie vaccinations are available. You will find yourselves just smacking yourself in the head trying to get kid's thought to take hold... in that place where you thought you had a brain but now... dark and cold.
People without children don't understand why we want a union! Take for example this scenario. I was sitting with my daughter when she was a toddler with all of my friends standing around. We were talking about how she always only asked me questions that I never had the answer to. The conversation went something like this: