Proper Way to Ask a Favor

Thank you card and bottle of wine

The Spruce / Margot Cavin

Have you ever wanted something from one of your friends or coworkers but didn't know how to ask a favor? There are ways you can do it that make the situation easier and less daunting.

Are you concerned that people will think less of you if you ask for something? Most people don't think twice about being asked for favors, unless you come across as needy and constantly want something.

If asking for favors makes you uncomfortable, you're in good company. Many people ponder, fret, and worry before they finally get the nerve to ask someone for what they want or need. This doesn't have to be the case, but there are some important guidelines that will make the request less demanding.

Awkward and Uncomfortable

Asking for a favor isn't easy, especially if you don't feel that you have something to give back. However, not everyone expects you to return the favor right away. There might be something you can do later, and you should be happy to let the person know you'll remember their act of kindness in the future.

How to Ask for Favors

Here are some tips on asking for favors:

  1. Be direct but polite. Never beat around the bush when asking someone to do something for you, or the person may not get the gist of what you are trying to say. However, you don't want to come across as demanding or acting like you're entitled. You can be both direct and polite. For example, if you need a sitter for a few minutes, you might say, "I have to run to the store, but my baby is still sleeping. Would you mind coming over and listening for him? I won't be long, and I'll be happy to pick something up for you while I'm at the store."
  2. Don't make it sound bad. If you are asking a favor, put the request in a positive light. Instead of saying, "I know you're busy, but would you mind doing this for me?" say something like, "I just finished building a new bookshelf, and since you're such a good carpenter, would you mind taking a look at it before I put it in the library?" The first example makes it seem like you're asking the person to stop what they're doing and help you out, while the second one acknowledges their expertise.
  3. Avoid guilt. You might want something from a person you've done things for in the past. Just remember that unless it was stated outright that they owe you something, they doesn't have to reciprocate. Don't tell anyone they owe this to you, or they might resent returning the favor.
  4. Don't cross the line. If you are friends with a doctor, you might ask a quick question without overstepping the boundaries. However, if you expect your doctor friend to give you a complete physical on personal time, you are definitely crossing the line. The same goes for any profession. Don't ask for something that the person is paid to do unless you are willing to fork over some money or barter your own services.
  5. Show respect. When you want a favor from someone you respect, let the person know that this is why you're coming to them. This might be for a job reference, a letter of recommendation, or an endorsement. You might say something like, "Since you're so well respected in this field, your recommendation would mean a lot to me."
  6. Avoid constant one-sided favors. The person may not expect you to reciprocate immediately after doing one favor for you. However, if you ask over and over without doing something in return they might start avoiding your calls. Try to find something you can do for this person before asking for something else. Otherwise, you'll come across as needy and possibly even a user.
  7. Be personal but straightforward. If you are making your request in a letter or email, address the person by name, let her know what you want, state the reason you're asking them, provide all the facts, and let them know if you need this within a certain timeframe. Always end with gratitude. The words "thank you" go a long way.
  8. Take "No" for an answer. Don't be taken aback or get upset if someone turns you down for a favor. They might be too busy to babysit or not have enough money to sponsor you for a charity run. When someone turns you down, say thank you and ask if they might be interested in the future. Make a note of the response and respect their wishes. Don't take "no" personally.
  9. Give the person an opportunity for escape. When you ask a favor, it's a good idea to add something like, "I understand if you're not able to do this now," or "Please don't feel obligated if you aren't comfortable doing this for me." Say this and mean it.
  10. Show gratitude. After the person does the favor, get to work on writing a thank you note. Tell her how much you appreciate the favor and remind them that you'd love to do something in return in the future. If there isn't a favor in return for you to grant, you can also send a thank you gift.
  11. Do favors for others. If you are in the habit of helping others out, they're more likely to want to do something for you. However, don't expect something in return, or you may be disappointed. Always show your grace and poise when you help others.

After the Favor is Granted

When someone does something for you, always follow up with a verbal thank you and a note to follow up. You don't need to go on and on, or you'll make the person uncomfortable. A favor is a gift, regardless of whether you're on the giving end or the recipient.