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'How to Ask for a Favor' from Women's Leadership Author, Speaker and Consultant Selena Rezvani

How to Ask for a Favor

[ Wednesday, Mar 12, 2014 ]

For many professionals, especially women, asking for a favor carries with it a stigma.  Soliciting help may be associated with weakness.  Worse yet, by asking for a favor we’re requesting that our counterpart go out of her way for us—thereby creating more work for her. 

The reality is that we’re not going to be able to handle every task presented to us on our own.  We need assistance as we develop skills, move into new professional areas, make new contacts, and sometimes while juggling everyday life.  What’s more, those who smartly engage their networks have a competitive advantage over those who don’t.  Just consider the prospects of a job seeker who engages fully with their network, asking specific favors, compared to the person who engages no one.  Big difference!

It’s time to start asking for some favors.

Below are some strategies to employ as you consider how to ask favors.  Yes, much of favor-asking may come across as straightforward, but you’d be amazed how many people botch this important ritual.  Whether asking for something in a manner too vague, expecting too much, or being downright unappreciative, asking a favor of someone is an art!

Use Their Time Well: Getting ready to ask for a favor is just as important as the actual ask.  Before you approach anyone, ask yourself if your counterpart is the right person to ask for this particular favor.  Then, make it easy for them by assuming the bulk of any work.  Let’s say you’re asking your counterpart for an introduction to a third party.  When you make your ask you can mention that you took the time to write up a bit of yourself and why the connection would be fruitful.  Tell the person they can excerpt or edit this text as they please if/when they make the introduction.  By showing basic respect for your counterpart’s time, you’re more likely to get a “yes” answer.

Give them an Out: Coupled with your ask, you should always make it very clear that you understand and accept that your counterpart may not be able to say “yes.”   Challenges with bandwidth, scheduling or a poor fit may preclude participation and that is just fine.  Demonstrate your respect for their limitations.  Following your ask, you might say, “I really appreciate you considering this request and I hope you understand there is zero pressure.” Leaving the conversation on this note may even lead them to reconsider a negative response when given a bit of time to digest it. 

Offer to Help Them: While it is not always possible to immediately reciprocate, be crystal clear that you’re intent on helping the other side too.  If someone does me a favor, my favorite response is “And what can I do for you?” not “Can I do anything for you?”  I want them to understand that I am not only glad to help them but I expect to help them.  While you’re at it, avoid one of the biggest faux pas I observe: too many people assume that what they have is not something that the other side has use for, wants or needs.  So, they never even bother to reciprocate.  Offer anyway!  The sincere gesture is important on its own, but if your counterpart bites, they may suggest something that they want from you, like proofreading a document or help completing a project. 

Inform Them of the Outcome: If you ask someone to get a ball rolling that will help a larger goal come to fruition, make it your job to keep them informed – at least of major updates.  For example, if a new speaker asks me for a referral to a conference and I then refer them to the conference organizer, it’s a considerate gesture to let me know what came of the introduction.  Often when you’ve done someone a favor and you’re left to wonder what happened, you assume nothing came of it.  You may also assume the person was too busy, lazy or unappreciative to circle back and inform you of what happened.  Of course, none of these are keywords you want associated with your personal brand.

Asking someone for help in the form of a favor is a sign that you trust them.  Even though this person may have clout or connections you need, you are in essence giving them a compliment when asking for something they have that you want.  Your relationship with the individual can actually be strengthened since you’re demonstrating your respect for their ability. 

Still, respectfully asking for favors is a learned skill.  When have you been asked for a favor?  What made you say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to the request?