The tricky business of being asked (and asking for) favours
In today’s Financial Times, a journalist asked me and other experts for thoughts on doing favours for colleagues and how to ask for favours. You can read it on the FT’s website; however, as their site may require registration (which is free), I have also copied and pasted the article below.
By Rhymer Rigby
“Ask for things that are easy to fulfil,” says John Lees, a career coach and author of How to Get a Job You’ll Love. “Be honest and straightforward and play towards things that people can do impulsively.
“For example, rather than send someone your CV to read, which will take hours, ask them what they think about a few points.”
Easily fulfilled favours, he explains, leave those who do them with a warm glow. By contrast, “asking for things that are difficult or complex can be a way of burning bridges”.
It is also a good idea to provide feedback. “If they gave you some helpful advice, call them in a month or so and tell them how it worked out for you,” he adds.
There are also psychological tricks you can use to get favours granted. “Give an explanation as to why you need the favour,” says Rob Yeung, business psychologist and author of I is for Influence. “The simple addition of the word ‘because’ helps. We’re conditioned to respond to it.”
How do I respond to being asked for a favour?
Obviously, saying yes is easy, although if you say yes to everyone you may become known as an easy touch. Sometimes, advises Mr Lees, you may not wish to do the whole thing. “Say: ‘I can do this part of it for you but not all of it.’ Or adopt a ‘match funding’ approach where you say: ‘If you do x, I’ll do y.’”
If you want to refuse completely, you should explain why not if there is a good reason and you have a relationship with the person. Executive coach Ros Taylor adds: “There are also situations, such a pushy stranger at a networking event or someone you barely know pestering you for a LinkedIn endorsement, where an unqualified ‘no’ may be the best approach. Just say, ‘I’d rather not’ and leave it at that.”
How does reciprocity work?
Many people assume that favours work as a kind of karmic bank account where, in the long term, you get out what you put in. But the reality is more complex and nuanced.
Mr Yeung says you should not expect people to return favours automatically. “If you want something, you need to ask for it. Don’t assume people will just help you out because you helped them.”
If you have to overtly call in a favour, the chances are there is something wrong with the relationship. Still, a tit-for-tat approach can work in the very short term. “People tend not to add up exactly who’s done what over periods of time, but this kind of calculation is often done more immediately,” says Mr Yeung. “So if you want a favour, you may improve your chances by making the person a cup of tea or paying them a compliment just before you ask.”
In the same vein, Ms Taylor cautions: “Watch for unasked favours, too. If someone starts doing numerous small favours for you, they may be expecting to ask you for a big favour in return.”
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2012.