Are You a Master of the Fine Art of Asking a Favor?

This week I’m making a big ask of a long-time friend.

When I talked my plan over with another friend, she asked, “What if he says no? Will it damage your relationship?”

My answer is no. I’m prepared for any answer from him. And I’m going to tell him that. The times I’ve been at peace asking for a favor have been the times when I was not attached to the outcome.

The importance of being earnest (and conscious) about what you are asking.

As I prepared for this post, I asked my fellow Lead Change Group (LCG) members their thoughts on asking for help or a favor. When is it appropriate? Do you have to give before you get? How do you earn the right to ask a favor?

Lisa Lavergne advocates for being clear about what is going on. In other words, acknowledge you are asking a favor and that the requestee may not be able to give you what you want.

For example recently via social media someone I didn’t know asked me for a piece of advice that was easy to answer. I provided a link to a post and a free resource I had written. The next thing I know I’m asked to review this person’s book and but extended no offer of a free book. The requester wanted me to “share what I thought, and share it with others.”

Lisa suggests another option for asking:

"Thank you so much for the resources, you have given me good direction. I do have a new book out as well, would you have time to review it for me if I sent you a free copy?"

That is a graceful way to ask for a favor.

I could have responded with; "No, currently I do not have that time.” Lisa supports being unapologetic about protecting your time, and providing alternatives, such as free resources.

I heard a speaker mentoring young professionals say you should never ask anything of anyone you don't know without giving first. I don't know that is always true. As a young professional, a manager in your organization may be willing to give you 15 minutes to learn about their career path, if you ask nicely.

As David Dye put it, “There are always things to give... it might just be your attention or appreciation. Those things are meaningful too.” Indeed. Let’s not take for granted that people like to be helpful and useful, particularly if the ask and appreciation is acknowledged.

Lyn Boyer shared some great wisdom that I am coming to appreciate myself.

“in some cases, asking a favor of someone can deepen a relationship. It offers someone the opportunity to share their expertise and/or experience.

I used to believe that doing everything for myself was always desirable, but then I realized that it makes other people feel good to help out and it opens the door to greater trust.”

The fine line in doing favors.

The HR Goddess, Jane Perdue, shares, “In my second act of life desire to give back and pay it forward, I gave too much in a few situations. The result was inadvertently creating the expectation in the mind of the recipient that they were entitled to my assistance whenever and in any degree. Sadly, some don't appreciate the difference between taking advantage and being helped out.”

More than one of my LCG colleagues mentioned the fine line between being helpful because you want to be, and developing strong boundaries.

John E. Smith says,

"I think we have to become astute about when we share without boundaries and when we share within boundaries.”

Setting a boundary can be a gift.

Fellow coach David Greer summarizes for us:

“As a giving person, my default is to give too much of myself. I have had to learn that no is the kindest gift to myself and to the person asking. Even when I do make a free offer, I make clear internally and externally what those boundaries are. As most have said in this post, getting clear on those boundaries internally is often the hardest part.”

There are no easy answers to asking favors or responding. Clearly, this is not an uncommon experience. Managing it well takes thoughtfulness, self-awareness and practice.