How (Not) To Ask For A Favor


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I’ve been producing content and courses for quite a few years now. As my online presence expands, occasionally people drop by to ask for a favor. I don’t mind, in fact, I encourage it. I do my best to help everyone the best I can. Over the years, however, I’ve noticed not everyone is tactful in the way they ask. I still help most of the time if I can, but it got me wondering how many other opportunities they’re completely tanking.

Asking for favors, connecting with a purpose in mind, requesting help, and reaching out for business propositions are all useful, normal parts of life. There are, however, strategies we can employ that are far more likely to increase our odds of success. In this post, I’ll be covering some common mistakes I’ve seen (and made), how they feel from the receiving side, and what you can do to come across as a someone that others want to help.

Strategies To Use When Asking For Favors

To illustrate, we’ll be breaking down anonymized and combined versions of favors people have actually asked me for lately and what makes them so unpleasant. We’ll start with this doozy:

Dear Stephanie,

My name is Tim. I wanted to check with you to see if there are any open positions at any company you’ve worked at. Respond as soon as possible with a time you will talk to me. I’m waiting to hear from you and I really need your help.

Strategy: Appreciate The Other Person’s Time

Respond as soon as possible

I’m waiting to hear from you

If you’re asking for a favor, you are in the weaker position. You are asking me to use my most valuable asset, time, on you in return for nothing. If you ask for this asset in a condescending, presumptive, or aggressive way, it communicates you just want to drain me and move on your way. In fact, this message is implying your time is more valuable than mine. If that’s the case, why are you asking me for a favor in the first place? Why would I want to help someone who’s impatiently trying to waste my resources, without even being grateful?

Also in regards to respecting the other person’s time, the shorter your request is the more likely someone is to fulfill it. None of us want to spend 45 minutes reading a novel or listen to you complain for 30 minutes. Be respectful of time, be clear and as concise as you can and you’re more likely to get what you ask for.

Strategy: Be Genuine

Dear Stephanie

My name isn’t Stephanie. This person didn’t even bother changing the name to the correct person. This is probably some horrible template they sent to hundreds of people. Generically and blindly asking everyone to give you a handout makes you seem shallow and your request seem cheap. Be genuine, customize your message the person you’re asking a favor from. Why would I care if you don’t?

Strategy: Do Your Research

I wanted to check with you to see if there are any open positions at any company you’ve worked at.

You want me to visit the website of each company I’ve ever worked for and check their open positions? Why……don’t you just do it? Why would I want to do this kind of simple busy work for someone I don’t even know?

Asking a question like this, that you could easily solve yourself in a few seconds, shows that you’re lazy and not even trying. I can’t tell you how many times someone has asked me for help and all I do is copy their request into a Google search, then paste the first link that comes up. Often, the follow-up with another question that’s easily searchable. They don’t get a second response. Do all the easy parts yourself before asking someone else to step in. At the very, very least, try first!

Strategy: Don’t Be Presumptive

Respond with a time you will talk to me.

This isn’t even a question, it’s a command. Still, even phrased as What’s your number so I can call you? or anything of the sort simply assumes that I’m going to help you. This sort of entitled attitude makes it feel like I already owe you something. We haven’t even started our relationship, how can that be the case? I don’t want to use my time with someone who just assumes I’m going to do everything they ask, it doesn’t feel good.

Strategy: Be Specific

I think we’ve railed on the last message enough, but here’s another gem that pops up in my inbox in multiple flavors:

Hello sir. I want help.

My name is John. Can you do something for me?

I need a favor, let’s talk.

Any message like this requires a response from me before I even know what the request is. This is a waste of time, since you already know what you need. If you’re going to make the ask from an acquaintance anyway, don’t draw it out into some long process, unless you’re genuinely looking to build a long-term relationship before asking for anything. But if that’s the case, your first message wouldn’t be a vague request for help anyway, right?

Strategy: Make It Easy

Ξέρω ότι δεν μιλάς αυτή τη γλώσσα Donovon, αλλά χρειάζομαι βοήθεια.

I occasionally get messages that look like this. As much as I’d like to be multilingual, I, in fact, only speak English. So, when I get a message like this, I have no idea what it says. If the other person doesn’t even know what you’re asking, there’s pretty much no way they can help.

Now, that being said, I do typically run these message through a translator to figure out what’s going on. Often, it’s individuals asking for advice. So I write up my response, then run it through the translator again, with an added message letting them know I don’t speak the language.

That’s a relatively easy process, but every single step, and every bit of friction you add makes it less likely you’ll get a favor from someone. This goes along with doing your research and respecting their time, make your request as easy as possible to fulfill. You’re far more likely to get it answered that way.

After The Favor

I try to respond to the majority of these requests. My responses typically include additional resources and action steps. More often than I’d like, I often receive messages like these after I try to help.

Ok.

Wow, that’s too hard. Can you send me something easier instead?

I watched the first minute of the twenty minute video you sent me, but I still don’t get it.

Strategy: Be Grateful

Getting responses like this is even worse than presumptive requests because I’ve already invested my time in providing the favor. Seeing your time and assistance converted into indifference, a complaint, or a lack of effort, makes it seem like a waste of time for both parties. If you don’t appreciate the help you receive, don’t expect to get any more of it. Giving a favor doesn’t provide much, but typically at least you feel like you helped someone. If they don’t like your help, didn’t find it useful, or couldn’t even be bothered to try, it feels like a waste of time.

Strategy: Follow-Up

Far more often, I don’t receive a follow-up. Ever. Of any kind. I have no idea if what I’ve offered was useful or not. I don’t even know if the person read it. If you’ve been given a favor, make sure to provide some sort of follow-up, even if it’s a simple, short thank you. It makes a huge difference, and for the person providing the favor, and improves the relationship immensely.

Go Ask For Some Favors!

This may seem like a long thread about making the person you’re asking a favor for as comfortable as possible. What the hell? I’m the one that needs the favor! It should be about me!

That’s exactly the point though. I’m trying to help you get your favors granted. The better you can make the other person feel and the easier the process, the more likely you are to get what you want. If you want to optimize results for yourself, you might have to invest a small amount up front to make it easier for the other person.

As a bonus, these same strategies help build and create relationships that are open to future favors and connection as well (if done genuinely, with not just your own self-interest in mind). In the long-term, this is always the best strategy, as you never know who can help you down the road and how. Keeping your connections open, positive, and amicable puts you in the best position to capitalize on future opportunities. Good luck out there.

Thanks for choosing to spend your time reading this post, I really appreciate it!

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