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How to ask for a favor (and get what you want)

Ever wonder how to ask for a favor the right way? Follow these 5 steps to ask for a favor, and you’ll never be turned down again.

Ramit Sethi

Every year on my birthday, I ask my readers to do me a simple favor. I tell them to leave a comment telling the world how IWT has helped them.

People love the idea — I get 500 comments every time. People humble brag about landing their dream job, eliminating $45K of debt, earning $10K on the side, and more.

These people don’t owe me anything. And yet here they are, giving me hundreds of testimonials. All because it’s my birthday.

This is just a tiny favor. Think of all the favors you might need: a job referral from an old boss, a friend to teach you how to cook a meal to impress your girlfriend, an introduction to the founder of a startup you want to freelance for.

This list goes on and on. But no matter what you want, there’s an easy way to get it, every time.

Today I’m going to teach you the five simple steps to ask for a favor and actually get what you want.

Step 1: Consider how your favor impacts them

When you ask for a favor, you’re essentially doing sales. You’re selling someone else your needs at the cost of their time, energy, and/or money.

And that’s what you’ve got to realize: It’s not all about you. While this favor benefits you in some way, you’re putting this person out in another way. You need to acknowledge that and compensate for it.

Having empathy like this is absolutely necessary for two reasons:

  1. It lets you talk to the person you’re selling to on their terms. You can relate to them and speak their language. Think about it: How you ask for a favor from your boss is a lot different than how you ask for a favor from your friend.
  2. It lets you adapt as the sale happens. When you care about the other person’s emotions and needs, you can see if what you’re asking from them is too much, or maybe if you’re asking it in a way that makes them feel weird. So stop weirding them out and relate to them.

Step 2: Ask with the expectation that your request will be granted

However, if you feel like you’re putting them out by asking for this favor, stop. You’ve already failed.

Mentality matters. I’ll say it again: Asking for a favor is basically selling a product or service. And that product or service is you.

So you need to believe you’re going to get whatever you ask for. If you’re going to play, play to win. Don’t try. Don’t hope. You’ve already decided to do it…you might as well do it right.

 

Go in with a winner’s mentality.

That means you don’t go in thinking that you’re bothering them or that this is a waste of their time.

You wouldn’t approach anyone and ask for a favor if you really felt like you were wasting their time or if you didn’t really need it. So stop acting like they’re moving mountains for you.

Step 3: Don’t lie

Many people think that you have to lie or at least tell a white lie when it comes to asking for something. They believe you’ll be more successful if you butter someone up and give them a bunch of phony reasons to do something.

Wrong.

Being truthful is what makes people believe you and want to help you. Studies show that when you come at people from a place of honesty, they tend to feel a lot more secure with you, because they know where you’re coming from.

It makes sense. If I want my brother-in-law to introduce me to his boss, he’s going to be pissed if I come to him with the pretense of asking how his Thai cooking classes are going.

He’ll respect me if I am direct and tell him, “Hey, I really want an intro to your boss because I think I could help him with XYZ goal.”

Step 4: Hold on to your power

Nobody likes a needy person. But if you act like you don’t really need your favor granted, you’re more likely to get what you want.

I‘ve explained this before in the context of negotiating your way out of paying bank fees. Banks want your money however they can get it, but if you threaten to leave the bank they’ll clear any charges in no time.

I’m not saying threaten to terminate a friendship or partnership because they’re not presenting what you want on a gold platter.

Instead, lead into the conversation with something organic. For example, “Hey, do you still want those tickets for the game on Thursday? Totally on me… Actually, though, I was hoping I could ask you for a favor. Would you have a couple of hours to help me move this weekend?”

Think about my birthday example. It doesn’t actually matter to you that it’s my birthday. But, because of how our society is set up, you feel like you owe me one. So I might as well cash in on that before it’s too late.

Step 5: Be very specific about what you want

When you ask for directions, would you go up to someone and say, “How do I go somewhere?”

Of course not. Not only would you sound like an idiot, but you wouldn’t get what you want. Instead you ask specifically, “How do I get to the Farmhouse Restaurant?”

The same goes when you ask for your favor. Make sure you have a very specific ask in mind.

Don’t ask: “Can you get me a job?”
Ask: “Can you give me a warm intro to Ross Currier? He’s your head of accounting at Company XYZ, and there’s a position opening up under him that I’m interested in.”

Don’t ask: “Are you around this weekend?”
Ask: “Are you free on Saturday afternoon? I need to pick up a couch from ABC Store and I was wondering if you could drive me over in your pickup to get it.”

When you say exactly what you want, people know exactly how to help you.

Get what you want

I’ve just given you the five steps to asking for a favor and getting what you want. This strategy works for anything.

And if you want specific scripts for emails that get results, too, I have five you can use to:

  1. Set up an informational interview
  2. Ask for recommendations for people to talk to
  3. Cold email a stranger for advice
  4. Pitch for a consulting gig or a job interview
  5. Reach out to others in your company to get to know them

Just enter your information below, and I’ll send you these five word-for-word scripts for free.

5 Word-for-Word Scripts to Write Emails That Get Results

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