Some true things are counterintuitive. We’re often cautioned to not wear people out by asking for favors. No one wants to inconvenience anyone else. However, asking for something from someone can actually make them like you more. Doing so helps create in people sone of the most pleasurable feelings possible: including competence, status, and goodness.
The phenomenon is called the Ben Franklin effect.
Recently, my BFF Cynthia needed a quote for a story from a well-known blogger and serial entrepreneur. She asked me to take a look at her ask letter to offer suggestions. Using her letter as an example, I want to go through some easy tweaks from taking a request for a favor from something you hate doing to something you love doing because it’s helping you build or strengthen your relationship.
1. Make your request as specific as possible.
People hate making decisions. It’s one of the most draining mental tasks, and no one wants to do it for you.
When Cynthia wrote the letter, she literally told the author the topic and asked for a quote. This seems appropriate. Cynthia doesn’t know what she wants the author to say. And she needs a quote. But this puts the author in the position of having to think about everything she thinks about the topic, and the try to decide what Cynthia wants her to say.
I suggested that instead, Cynthia ask her a very specific question. She should still make it clear it’s for a quote for a story, but giving the quote is then as easy as responding naturally to the question, and not as hard as having to decide which aspect of the topic to address.
The biggest impediment to a specific request is not knowing yourself what you want from the other person. Do the hard work yourself, up front, in deciding what you want, so they don’t have to decide for you.
2. Stroke their ego, but don’t waste their time.
In the letter, Cynthia stated why she was asking the author for the quote. Cynthia wrote that it was because the author was a well-known figure in the space Cynthia was writing about. But the author knows that. And she knows that Cynthia knows that. Or she should assume, because neither of them are idiots.
Instead, I suggested that Cynthia read over what the author had already written on the subject to formulate a more specific question. Not only does this not waste the author’s time with generalities, but it strokes their ego to know you’re familiar with their work, and it makes it clear what exactly you want. So Cynthia linked to the author’s previous work in the area Cynthia was covering with her piece.
When you want something from someone, let them know you’ve been paying attention to what they’re doing. But don’t waste their time with vague flattery. Nothing is more flattering than respecting someone’s time.
3. Be grateful.
If you can swing it, take them out to coffee, lunch, or dinner. The point is to build a relationship, after all. What might have been weird before a favor becomes natural afterwards. If you can’t, a nice gift or gift card is a great idea. When my friend advocated hard for me at her company, and I got the job, I got her a gift certificate to Lululemon, because she’d been posting on Facebook about getting back into working out. It can be a $10 Starbucks card.
The other part of being grateful, and building the relationship, is letting the person know how it all worked out. Cynthia will of course email the author the story when it comes out, along with her gratitude. If you got advice, or asked for a letter or recommendation, or borrowed a tent for a trip, let the person know how the advice worked out, whether you got the job, how much fun you had on the camping trip. Let the person fully enjoy the good they did for you and they’ll be excited about doing something nice again for you soon.
People love to feel powerful, important, and like they’re good people. Make it as easy and rewarding for them as possible, and it can be a great way to grow closer.