How to Properly Ask for a Favor

We all have been in the position where we need to ask for help, and for many of us, asking for favors brings up deep-seated fears and feelings of awkwardness. According to Emerson Spartz who did a viral experiment on asking for favors, we shy away from asking out of fearing rejection, appearing weak, being an inconvenience, appearing like we’re using the other person, owing someone else, and finally losing our social capital, which could have been used for something really important. I came across some quick tips to keep in mind the next time you’re asking for something that will help make things a little more comfortable: 

1. Be honest and straightforward.

The worst thing that you can do is draw out your appeal with a bunch of pleasantries that will not only make the person you’re asking fearful of what the hell you’re about to request, but it gives them time to think of all the reasons to say no to you. There’s also no need to make up a bunch of reasons that exaggerate your problem. Explain your predicament in a clear way, and you’ll find that anyone reasonable will empathize with you. Plus, the last thing you want are discrepancies in your story being discovered down the line after someone has helped you out, quickly resulting in them never helping you again and/or talking shit about you so that no one else wants to help you either.

2. Don’t let guilty feelings get in the way – but do be considerate.

If you feel guilty about asking for help, you run the risk of failing to make your needs clear when you skirt around the issue. On the other hand, if you simply expect those around you to bow down whenever you need help, you’re bound to be disappointed. Be sure to let the person know that you’re aware that this is a favor or inconvenience to them – noting a person’s busy schedule, or the fact that they may need to stick their neck out for you might soften the blow if they in fact can’t do what you’re requesting, or, at the very least, makes you sound polite and gracious in your request. If this is the case, saying something like, “If this isn’t a good time, I understand but I figured I’d ask just in case!” can help to take the pressure off.

3. Recognize that asking for help can benefit some, but can be ridiculous for others.

Other people may honestly feel better about themselves if they think that they can be useful to their friends, relatives and coworkers. It gives people a sense of value, and they’ll be especially likely to feel this way if you show that you’re appreciative. On the flip side, the favor must benefit the other person in some way, especially if they are not a close contact. Do not bother asking a favor that is a serious inconvenience to someone who you know for a fact that you provide zero value to. 

If you’re trying to decide if you’re close enough with a contact to ask for a favor, there are a couple of things to keep in mind:

  • Have you known this person more than a year?
  • Have you interacted both online and in person at least four or five times over the past year?
  • Have you interacted with this person one-on-one (not just in a group networking setting) during the past six months?
  • Have you done a favor for this person before (or is there something you can offer to do)?
  • Have you been in touch with this person in the past two months?

If you’re looking at these questions and realize that most of your answers are “no,” you may be making the mistake of asking for way too much, way too quickly. Instead of asking for the favor or a big introduction, asking for some advice would be a better step. It’s a much easier and more appropriate way to start building a relationship with someone.

4. Be ready to reciprocate.

You may have an idea of people in your life who are likely to be able to help you out at some point in your career/life. Be sure you always be open to helping these people out when you can and keeping in close contact. Send over useful articles, congratulate them on milestones and make yourself generally likable. Over time, if you want a favor from someone, you’re more likely to get it if you’ve been similarly gracious in the past. When someone does show you kindness, always consider what you can do in return. Be sure to follow up and be prepared to have a token of gratitude for whatever favor they did for you.


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