Here’s a question: Do you make more friends doing a favor or asking a favor? I’ll come back to this in a moment.
I remember years and years (and years and years) ago, I was at little league baseball game watching a friend play – why? I have no idea. We had made plans to have a sleepover that night – why? I have no idea. I guess when you’re a kid you do weird and unnecessary things because it’s what everyone else does so it sounds fun. I was probably around grade three, which was in the heart of my being incredibly submissive and unquestionably obedient with any grown up phase (and mostly submissive and unquestionably obedient with my own parents – you’re never as good at home). If a grown up told me to jump, I would start jumping and thank them for telling me what to do – I had a problem, but adults liked me. My friend’s dad was the “cool” dad since he was funny and had a great laugh. I really looked up to him (at least until a few years down the road when he ran away with another woman devastating my friend’s family). During the game, he asked me if I wanted a treat from the snack bar and I politely said, “No thank you.” Shortly after I declined, I went to the snack bar myself and bought a chocolate bar with the money my parents gave me. They were the kind of people who were the first to offer to help others, but never let anyone help them, which also meant they didn’t want their kids to be a burden. When I got back to my seat and started eating my chocolate bar – I was a fat kid, so I would’ve been in my happy place – my friend’s dad saw me from where he was watching the game, came over, threw a dollar at me, and under his breath said “Fool,” as he walked away. I didn’t know what I did wrong, but I figured it must’ve been something terrible to upset him so much. I just knew I was doing what my parents told me to do. Now that I’m older I can see that by not letting him help me, he was insulted and his saying fool wasn’t to claim I was actually a fool; he was expressing his hurt and frustration. He didn’t have the best response – it was pretty terrible – but I get it now.
Does this story give you a better idea of the answer to the initial question: Do you make more friends doing a favor or asking a favor?
Most people I’ve asked answer doing a favor, but the problem with that is favors can be brushed off, discounted, or even cause guilt. Ever be given a Christmas present when you don’t have anything to give back? There’s a moment of panic: “Oh… uh… thanks? Uh… shoot I forgot your gift at home.” Sometimes, when we do a favor, the other person feels indebted to us and that leaves them feeling a little bit of guilt or anxiety for when and what they’ll be asked to do in return; by asking for help they can also feel a sense of shame.
Meanwhile, if you ask someone to do you a favor that’s easy enough to do, they’ll feel trusted, they’ll feel a sense of value and purpose, and they’ll feel empowered being able to help someone. It’s why many people volunteer – it feels good to help. By asking the favor and helping them feel good, they will now associate that feeling to you along with the idea that you don’t think you’re better than them or in a position to judge, which makes you very safe. Thus, we make more friends asking a favor than doing a favor.
The idea of asking for a favor is the best way to make a friend is made all the more important because people can be insulted when we don’t ask like in my earlier example. This is especially unfortunate because the person not asking for help typically doesn’t ask in order to not be a burden when it actually makes the other person feel rejection and helpless – who wants to watch others suffer when you can help?
This phenomenon of asking a favor making you more friends is connected to what’s called the Ben Franklin Effect. I learned it a number of years ago and have since put it into practice. I went from being someone who was raised to avoid asking for help to someone who wants to find ways to ask in order to better help make a friend. This also means I’m more aware that there’s a risk of hurting people if I don’t take them up on their offers to help, so I’m quicker to find a way to take them up on it or ask for something else that would be more helpful for me. I also know there’s also a risk that doing something nice can upset others. This doesn’t stop my wife and I (she’s excellent at making food for people who are in tough spots), but I try to find ways to do nice things as encouragements rather than favors and I do things because I want to do them and not because I’m trying to earn people’s love.
This week may you discover the power of asking for favors.
Rev. Chad David, ChadDavid.ca, learning to love dumb people (like me)