Proper Way to Ask a Favor

Man helping a woman fix her bicycle
If you ask a favor in a positive way, most people will be glad to help you out. Tim Robberts/Taxi/Getty Images

Have you ever wanted something from one of your friends but didn't know how to ask a favor? You're in good company. Many people ponder, fret, and worry before they finally get the nerve to ask someone for what they want. 

Awkward and Uncomfortable

It 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 her kind deed 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. 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 she's doing and help you out, while the second one acknowledges the other person's expertise.
  1. 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 you owed her something, she doesn't have to reciprocate. Don't tell her she owes this to you.
  2. 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.
  1. Show respect. When you want a favor from someone you respect, let the person know that this is why you're coming to her. This might be for a job reference, a letter of recommendation, or an endorsement.
  2. 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 she might run when she sees you coming. Try to find something you can do for this person before asking for something else.
  3. Be personal and personable. If you are making your request in a letter or email, address the person by name, let her know what you want, tell her why you are coming to her, provide all the facts, and let her know if you need this within a certain timeframe. Always end with gratitude. The words "thank you" go a long way.
  4. Take "No" for an answer. Don't be taken aback or get upset if someone turns you down for a favor. She might be too busy to babysit or not have enough money to sponsor you for a charity run. When someone turns you down, thank her and ask if she might be interested in the future. Make a note of her response and follow her wishes.
  5. Give 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.
  1. Show gratitude. After the person does the favor, get to work on writing a thank you note. Tell the person how much you appreciate the favor and remind her that you'd love to do something for her in the future. If there isn't anything specific she'll need, you can also send a thank you gift.
  2. 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.

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.