How to Ask for a Favor

Two Parts:Asking a Favor CourteouslyAccepting a Favor Graciously

One of the reasons we make friends and acquaintances is so that we'll have a network of people who can help us when we run into difficulty. Unfortunately, even if you've got plenty of potential helpers at your disposal, asking for a favor can be a difficult thing to do. For many of us, it's hard to admit that we need help with something, even if the consequences for proceeding without that help are major. Don't sweat it - this short guide will teach you how to ask for favors with tact and grace.

Part 1
Asking a Favor Courteously

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    Approach your helper at an appropriate time. If you ask someone for a favor at an inconvenient time, you can embarrass or even anger him or her. You also might decrease the chances he or she will say yes. If you're going to ask your teacher for help with your math homework, don't ask in the middle of his lecture. Definitely don't ask right after he's learned his house has burned down! In general, try not to interrupt someone's work nor their moments of joy or sadness.
    • Depending on the favor, you might also want to move to a private location when you ask your person. If your favor's embarrassing to you or this other person (for instance, if you need help removing a wedgie), don't ask him or her in front of other people.
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    Tell them you're looking for a favor. The sooner you mention your intentions, the better. It's polite to be up-front about you want, but it's also a smart use of your time. If you ask for a favor at the end of a long conversation and your helper says s/he can't help you, you've wasted time you could have spent looking for another helper. It's simple - all you need to say is something like, "Hey, I was wondering if I could ask you a favor" within your first few sentences. Then, simply launch into your request! Your potential helper will probably appreciate that you weren't sneaky about what you wanted!
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    Word your request for a favor carefully. You want to be polite and gracious while also being crystal clear about what you want. Explain the facts of the situation. Leave nothing to guessing. Then, without dallying, explain what you need this person's help with. Ask them plainly if they'll help you in the form of a simply-worded question. Don't allow any chance of misunderstanding. If this issue is important enough to require a favor, you should address it head-on. Say "Do you think you can help me with my math homework for an hour tomorrow?", not "Hey, if you want to show me some math stuff, that's cool!"
    • Specify any relevant deadlines or qualifying information up front. For instance, in our math homework example, if you've got a test at the end of the week, be sure to include this information so the person will know s/he will have to free up time before then.
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    • Don't try to coerce or guilt someone into doing you a favor. A favor isn't a favor unless it's given genuinely and willingly.
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    Get to the point. Don't procrastinate - the longer you wait before bringing up your need for a favor, the bigger chance you have of losing your nerve and leaving the conversation without even having asked. If you let this happen, you'll be back to square one! Make your greeting, exchange one or two short pleasantries, move to a quiet area if you need to, then immediately tell this person that you're looking for a favor. Don't let him or her get away before you gather the courage to ask!
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    Flatter your helper. Let this person know that they're the only person who's good enough for the job - even if they're not. Compliment this person's abilities - in our example, we might say something like, "Could you please help me with my math homework? You're crazy good at trigonometry - didn't you get an A on the last test?" Your praise can range from subtle to gushing, depending on how desperate you are for help!
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    Offer this person a reason to help. People who are reluctant to help you can be swayed if you tell them the consequences (for you) if they don't grant your favor. Tell them the worst-case scenario of what will happen if they won't help you out. In our example, you might tell your potential tutor that if you can't get help with your math homework, you'll definitely fail math!
    • You don't have to be over-the-top or maudlin to get your point across, but if you're desperate, it can help!
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    Give your helper an "out." If you're desperate for a favor, it can be quite tempting to shoot down a potential helper's excuses for not being able to help. If you do this, though, you'll regret it as soon as the favor's done. For peace of mind and to avoid lingering awkwardness or hurt feelings, it's a good idea to include a subtle "exit strategy" for your helper when you ask for a favor. Mention a potential reason why your helper might not be able to grant your favor - they'll probably take this excuse if they don't want to help.
    • In our homework example, we would say something like, "Hey, I'd really appreciate it if you can give me a hand with my homework, unless you're busy or something. "
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    Accept refusals politely. The act of asking for a favor implies that there's a possibility they'll say no. Prepare for this possibility! Don't get upset if this person can't help you - instead, be happy that s/he was honest about his or her capacity to help you. If, out of guilt, they had offered to help you, only to withdraw their help later, they would have cost you valuable time. By being up front, they've given you a better chance to find help elsewhere. Tell them that you understand and don't ask them for a favor again.
    • You can, however, ask them if they know anyone else that can help. With luck, they'll be able to recommend someone you hadn't considered.
    • Don't take it personally if someone can't do you a favor - it's not a reflection of their opinion of you. If you suddenly start ignoring this person, s/he will think you only cared about his or her ability to help you.
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    Have a backup plan. Asking someone a for favor doesn't necessarily mean they'll agree to help you! They may be too busy to help or may not know how. They may simply not want to. In any case, don't be too emotionally invested in your first choice - have a few alternate options in mind in case you need to look for help elsewhere.
    • In our math homework example, for instance, we would first plan to ask the girl in class who gets straight A's for help. If she can't help, we'd then ask the boy who answers the most questions in class. If he can't help, then and only then will we approach our standoffish teacher.

Part 2
Accepting a Favor Graciously

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    Thank your helper. A good rule is to offer your sincere gratitude three times - when your helper agrees to help you, when they've finished helping you, and the next time you see them after that. Remember that this person had no obligation to grant your favor - s/he did it out of personal kindness.
    • Your thanks doesn't have to be flowery and complicated. "Thank you so much" is simple and effective. Most people can tell if your thanks is genuine, so a small but heartfelt "Thank you" is better than an overwrought thank you speech.
    • If the favor was a big one, consider writing this person a thank-you note or buying him or her a gift. Remember that when giving gifts, sincerity and emotional weight mean much more than the material value of the gift.
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    Follow through with your end of the bargain. If this favor requires your participation, provide it. Nothing is worse than asking someone for a favor, then not offering that person the full attention and participation the person needs to help you! For instance, in our math homework example, if we ask a fellow student to tutor us before the test, it's very unfair to show up unprepared or to text during our tutoring session.
    • If the favor requires the use of certain items, do your best to provide these to your helper. If your friend takes time out of the day to help you with your homework, try to show up with paper, pencils, a calculator, etc.
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    Be ready to help others when they need it. If you accept someone else's help, you should, in turn, try to help someone else. You might try asking your helper if s/he needs help with anything as soon as s/he's done helping you. If not, simply go on with your life, keeping an eye open for people in need. Remember that the initial reaction when someone asks you a favor may be reluctance or hesitance. Try to overcome these feelings. If you can (realistically) help someone, do it.
    • Think about how relieved you felt when this person agreed to help you. By helping others, you're giving them that same feeling of relief.
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    • Don't only help other people after someone's done you a favor! Strive to help others whenever you can - it'll make you feel great!
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  • Swallow your pride! Don't feel embarrassed to ask for a favor. Asking for a favor isn't a sign of weakness. Admitting that you need help is often much more difficult than denying it, so you should be proud of your willingness to seek help.
  • Remember that every single person in human history has, at some point, had to take someone's help. Alexander the Great wasn't too proud to take Aristotle's help when he was a boy - you shouldn't balk at asking for help on your homework!

Article Info

Categories: Conversation Skills