The Five Golden Rules of Favor Asking


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!)

5. Reciprocate

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.

Final Thoughts

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.

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