May I Ask a Favor of You?

Men Talking

It's not always easy to ask a favor of someone.  You don't want to appear needy or burdensome.  But let's face it - we all need help sometimes.  

One of the perks of having other people in your life is knowing you have support when you need it.  Even though friendship means far more than having an exchange system, it's really nice knowing you can count on someone.

As in all areas of life, there is a risk of overstepping a boundary, but etiquette presents orderly methods for doing things, including asking for favors.

Before You Ask

Depending on the favor you need, and whether it is personal or professional, you might want to assess your relationship with the person whose help you are seeking. 

Sure, borrowing a cup of sugar is a simple, neighborly request.  But asking someone to witness a legal document, invest in your business, or care for your child for an entire weekend requires an established relationship and mutual trust.

Also, depending on the complexity and time commitment of the favor you are asking, consider the schedule of the other person.  Everyone is busy, and your consideration of time will be appreciated. 

If possible, prepare your friend for the possibility that his help will be needed.  Do your best to avoid surprising someone who may already be overwhelmed.

How to Ask a Favor of Someone

  • Ask as early as possible.
  • Depending on the nature of the favor, consider asking face-to-face.
  • Be specific and direct with your request.  Remember to say "Please." 
  • Provide necessary facts but, depending on your relationship, the whole story may not be required.
  • Be sincere.  Let the person know you don't take your request of her time lightly.
  • Avoid putting words in the other person's mouth.  "John, I know you are probably too busy to help me out . . ." doesn't sound very confident and can even be offensive to some people who genuinely want to help you.
  • Remain authentic and avoid throwing compliments into your request for a favor.
  • When you ask a favor of someone, be upbeat and cheerful.
  • No matter the response to your request, accept graciously.

One Favor = Two Thank-yous

Gratitude is always appreciated, and it goes without saying (I hope!) that when you ask a favor of someone and she agrees to help you, you say "Thank you."

Once the favor is done, another thank-you is in order.  This time, a written thank-you note.  You may also feel compelled to include a token of your thanks in the form of flowers, chocolates, or your friend's favorite wine.  Something that signifies your appreciation and is meaningful to the recipient.

In addition, there is another, rather indirect, show of gratitude you should provide.  When that person approaches you with a favor, agree to help.  Returning a favor not only shows further appreciation, it solidifies trust and respect.

There may be a tendency to thank the person who helped you repeatedly.  You are extremely grateful and vow to never forget what he did for you.  While this is a noble attitude, it can create an awkward situation when you continually bring it up.  It also shows a lack of confidence in yourself and could even make you seem a little desperate and clingy.

Perhaps it might be helpful to remind yourself that we are all here to help each other - in a variety of ways and for a variety of reasons.  It's just human nature.

Studies show that when you help someone, you feel really good about yourself.  So the best way to show genuine gratitude when you've received a favor is to be on the lookout for how you might help others.  You might even take the opportunity to offer your assistance before you are asked.

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