I like to help people.
I’m terrible to ask people to help me.
I have many reasons for this. I don’t want to be a burden. I don’t want anyone to feel obligated. I came up with a rule in my head, namely that I have a ask everyone I know. Like, one question ever. So I better put it to good use.
Then I wrote a book. I knew I had to rely on my network – asking people to promote it, or just buy a copy.
So I made a resolution: I was finally going to ask for favors.
It went very well. This is what I learned.
1. When you ask for a favor, you are… doing someone a favor
I have done many favors for people. I’ve made connections, provided feedback, promoted their work – whatever.
Here’s what I didn’t realize: As a result, these people felt guilty. They really wanted a way to pay me back, but I never gave them a way to do that.
This reminded me of some interesting research I had come across about the hidden benefits of birthday parties. The first celebrations in America began in the late 1700s, but most people considered them an abominable excess. They refused to celebrate their children’s birthdays, thinking they would create smug children who would reject the community at large. (I have a podcast episode on this.)
But as historians look at that shift, they’re seeing how birthday parties actually… strengthens communities. Why? Because they’ve created what York University consumer researcher Russel Belk calls “persistent debt.”
It’s a self-reinforcing system: you’re invited to someone’s party, which means you have to invite them to your party. And because birthdays are spread out over the year, the debt lasts a long time. “That keeps the group spirit alive,” he said.
I found this to be true when I asked for favors too. I made my friends feel better about their debts, but it’s not like we even now. This is not a financial transaction. Instead, I now feel great about what they’ve done for me, meaning I want to help them even more, and our beautiful dragging debt cycle will continue.
2. Asking for favors is a good reason to keep in touch with people
If you interact with someone on a regular basis, they will feel involved in your success. They will gladly help you.
If you only contact someone when you want help, they will get annoyed. They might help once, but never again.
Podcast Host Jordan Harbinger made that clear to me a few years ago when I interviewed him in ukbusinessupdates.com. You can’t take your network for granted, he said.
That’s why he actively keeps his network warm – and even uses a CRM for that. (CRMs, or Customer Relationship Management, is a tool salespeople use to keep their leads organized.) “The CRM reminds me when I haven’t been in touch with someone for a certain amount of time – I set it to three or six months – and then I just check in via text or email,” Jordan told me. “I’ll ask how they’re doing, tell me a bit about me, and that’s it. It won’t take much time.”
I’ve followed that advice myself, albeit with a little less rigor. I made a spreadsheet called “Good Contacts” a few years ago and now enter everyone I want to keep in touch with. I regularly go through it and contact people I haven’t spoken to in a while.
This is nice! Yeah, fine, there’s a selfish element to it – I was hoping they’d help me with the book. But it also allowed me to keep up with interesting people, help them with their own projects and build lasting relationships.
3. Rejection is drowned out by love
Here’s something I could once admit to myself: I didn’t ask people for favors because I was afraid of being rejected.
I wasn’t really afraid of the word ‘no’. I’ve heard that often enough. Instead, I was afraid to change the nature of my relationships with people.
After all, rejection changes things! It’s like trying to kiss someone who doesn’t love you. From that moment on there is almost no turning back. And I kept thinking – do I want to risk this connection by asking the favor?
But then I did it. So let me tell you what happened.
People were overwhelmingly happy to help. My best relationships were strengthened.
A few people said no, or just haunted. These were not friends I knew well, but more warm work acquaintances. Over the years I have helped a very large podcaster and we exchanged many nice emails. But when I asked to be on this person’s show, they said no to my publicist and never responded directly to me. I think that’s the end of that relationship.
But you know what? That’s fine. We have many people in our lives – we don’t have to count the selfish ones.
So now I ask you for something:
If you haven’t already, please buy a copy of my book Building for tomorrow straight away! It will help you build a more fulfilling life and career…
And let’s be honest – I feel good about it too.