Modern Etiquette: Asking for a Favor

by Grace Bonney

Illustration by Anna Emilia

I’m so glad that this etiquette column has finally come to life. Not only because I enjoy tackling issues like this and hearing all sides of the spectrum (I loved reading your comments on last week’s post), but I really love researching what’s been done/said/suggested in the past. I’m working on a few etiquette posts at the same time right now (social media/email, dinner parties, weddings), and it’s fun to see how social conventions have changed, become more open-minded and accepting of a wide range of styles, preferences and cultural differences. So before I dive into those bigger topics (those first two are gonna be doozies), I wanted to handle something that I’ve been hearing about a lot behind the scenes: How to Ask for a Favor.

Asking for a favor seems like a simple topic. You pick someone, ask them and then they say “yes” or “no,” right? Sort of. There’s an art to asking someone to help you with something, and there are definitely ways to respond and react that can make the experience easier and more positive for both people. In an age where online connections and bonds are made so quickly, I’ve noticed that people feel comfortable assuming/asking/demanding a lot of the people they know online. So this topic feels like a good place to get us going today. As always, I really want to know what YOU think about this. Have you been in an uncomfortable favor situation? If so, what would have made it different or gone more smoothly? Or are you extremely adept and successful at asking for favors? If so, we’d love to hear your secrets. The goal of today’s column will be to understand better ways to ask for, receive and be appreciative of help. A little kindness and thought goes a long way toward maintaining close friendships in both life and work, so I hope these ideas — and your comments — will help all of us keep those bonds tight. xo, grace

In tackling this topic, I thought it would be best to break it down into a few sections: Basic Do’s and Don’ts, Considering the Task and Recipient, Being a Gracious Helper/Help-ee and Maintaining Boundaries and Friendships.

*But before I start, I want to preface this entire article by saying this*: I believe that true, close relationships (family, friend, romantic) don’t always follow rules or guidelines. Sometimes life throws you a curve ball, and you may have to ask for a lot of favors for a while. As long as you do so with kindness, understanding and appreciation, it should not be a tit-for-tat situation. Real friends and family understand that rough patches happen and that you’ll both be there for each other regardless. So while I’ll be discussing the idea of “you owe me” in this post, I want to stress that I think that truly close bonds sometimes fall outside of rules and guidelines. Also, all of these guidelines are meant for an ideal situation where you have time to think about things ahead of time. Sometimes you need a favor fast and don’t have time to plan. If that’s the case, just remember #1 below.

1. Basic Do’s and Don’ts

– The simplest thing to remember when asking for a favor is this: Always say please and thank you. If you’re asking someone to do you a favor, starting with an appreciative tone always helps.

– Be prepared to graciously accept rejection. You never know what someone else’s life, schedule or comfort level is when approached for a favor. Their inability to help may have nothing to do with you, so try not to take things personally. A polite response to a “no” goes a long way.

– Do not guilt someone into doing something. Making someone feel guilted into helping you starts things off on the wrong foot. You won’t get their best help, and it will leave a sour taste in their mouth about helping you. An honest appeal and explanation of your situation is best.

– Be direct: Nothing’s more awkward than having a long meeting with someone where you can tell they want to ask you something the whole time. Start with your request from the get-go and be clear and simple about what you need and why you need it.

– Do as much as you can before asking for help. Part of showing someone that you’ve tried and really do need help is demonstrating that you’ve attempted to ease their job a bit. If you’re asking someone to give you advice on a professional matter, show them that you’ve already read books/blogs/posts that cover that area. It will help them focus in on how best they can help and show your dedication to helping yourself at the same time. Another example: If you’re asking friends to help you move, try to take care of buying boxes or tidying up first (if you can) so their work of packing and carrying is a little easier.

– Don’t say “You owe me.” I’ll go into this more below, but I think the worst thing you can do when accepting a request to help someone is to make them feel beholden to you. You should only accept an offer to help if you truly want to. People shouldn’t guilt you into helping, and in return, you shouldn’t guilt them into helping you later or feeling bad for asking for help.

– Social media update: I’m tackling this in full next time, but I wanted to add that it’s always polite to ask kindly if you want people to Tweet, Follow, Friend or vote for you in some sort of online platform. I see a lot of “VOTE FOR ME!” emails and messages these days, and it would be awesome to have that phrased as, “I’m excited to be a part of [contest name]! If you’re a supporter of [business name], I would greatly appreciate your vote here. Thanks so much for your time.”

2. Considering the Task and Recipient

This is an area where I think most of the awkwardness with favors could be avoided, simply because it’s important to consider WHAT you’re asking and WHOM would be the best person to ask.

When considering the task, take a minute to think about it from someone else’s perspective. How much time, work, effort, skill, stress and money will be put into it? Write these things down and look at it as though you were receiving this request. Are there ways you can make this easier for someone before asking? Tasks you can do yourself first? If so, cross those off and handle them on your own before asking. I can’t stress enough how much it helps to hear someone say, “I’ve already done X, Y and Z, but I’m stuck on this last part. Could you please help me?”

Considering the recipient (who would be best suited to help) of your request is important, too. Primarily because it helps you find the most likely path to success. A skill or task that may seem everyday and easy to you may not be easy to everyone. For example: A lot of my friends recently had children. When visiting newborns, I was terrified of how tiny and fragile the babies seemed. I was too scared to touch them and was so worried I would do something wrong. Now, I know a lot of parents feel the same way, but if you were asking someone to babysit a newborn, it would be helpful to choose someone close to you who is excited by the prospect of caring for a small baby (like so many of my other visiting friends were). I, for example, would be better suited to cooking dinner, cleaning the house and just about any other task the family could need. Does that mean I wouldn’t help a friend in need? Of course not, but when you’re thinking of asking someone to help, consider which tasks would be best suited for them.

3. Being a Gracious Helper/Help-ee

If you’re the person being asked to help someone, I think part of the two-way relationship implies that you’ll only accept if you can truly help, and that you won’t try to hold it against someone. While a lot of people feel that a favor in itself implies a tit-for-tat situation (“You owe ME now”), I don’t agree. It’s not the favor that implies that, it’s the friendship. If you’re friends with someone, or in a relationship with someone, you’re part of a mutual understanding that you care about each other and will do what you can — within reason — to help that person when they’re in need. Does it mean you have to give them $20,000 in a pinch? No. But does it imply that a little help now and then is understandable? I think so. So part of being a gracious helper is to avoid scorekeeping. If you truly feel like you’re always helping someone and they’re never helping you, it’s a good time to have a more serious discussion about the friendship.

As the helper, it’s also important to be honest and upfront. If you’re able to help someone with one part of a favor but not the other, just tell them. You can say, “I’m afraid I can’t drive you to the airport because I have plans that day, but I’d be more than happy to pick you up when you return. Could you find someone to handle the first leg of your trip?” If accepting the full favor request is putting you out or will make you angry or resentful, it’s best to be honest about what you can and can’t do. Chances are, your friend would rather have some of your help and all of your friendship, rather than all of your help and all of your resentment.

As the person being helped, it’s important to thank someone for their time and effort. This “thank you” can come in many forms. In the most basic form, it should be delivered as a heartfelt “thank you” before, after and during the help. I’ve helped countless friends move over the years, and it always makes the load a little lighter to hear a “Hey guys, thanks again for helping me today,” while you’re lifting heavy boxes.

For particularly heavy or elaborate favors, I think an extra thank you goes a long way. My parents have a very kind neighbor who watches their dog when they’re out of town. She refuses to accept money for her help, but my parents always bake her some sort of homemade treat (a favorite of hers) as a thank you. Whether you write a card, send flowers or bake something nice, a little extra thank you (especially for longer tasks) really shows someone you care. If buying/making something isn’t in the budget, a hand-written thank you note does the trick, too. It shows you took the time to sit down and say how much you appreciate their help. (A phone call is great, too. For some reason, that always feels a step above an email to me.)

4. Maintaining Boundaries and Friendships

One of the best ways to maintain that relationship — and improve it — is to respect someone’s professional and personal boundaries. Just last week, I was talking to a friend who was dismayed over the recent trend of “internet acquaintances” asking her to meet for coffee so they could “pick her brain.” I think this is a pretty common occurrence these days, and while sometimes flattering and a sign of great inter-connectivity, it’s further proof that someone’s boundaries should be respected when asking for a favor.

Here’s one way to look at it:

– Is this person a good, close friend? If so, you’re probably ok to ask them for detailed professional advice or help. I’ve done this for friends without feeling taken advantage of and have felt honored to received the same from friends.

– Is this person NOT a good, close friend? Think twice about what you’re asking and whether this is a service they typically make their living doing. I’ve heard from too many freelancers to count that their professional consulting rates are frequently ignored and someone just asks for advice in exchange for a free cup of coffee or a meal. If this person isn’t someone you truly know well and consider a close friend, asking them for professional advice (when that’s a service they make their living from) in exchange for a meal is not appropriate. If their full project price isn’t in your budget range, consider asking for a one-time consultation rate. I’ve done this with lawyers, graphic designers and even a stylist before. My budget didn’t allow for their full rates, so I asked if that was an option, and I was happy to hear that all of them had no problem giving me overview advice for a small fee.

In either of these situations, offering someone “an out” is a great solution to anyone feeling uncomfortable about a boundary being crossed. A simple, “I’m stuck with how best to redesign my business cards. You’re a great graphic designer, and I wondered if you’d be open to giving me your input on what I should do. If not, I totally understand, but I just wanted to check first,” does the trick. Sometimes favors are tricky (asking someone for a job at their company, asking someone to borrow money, etc.), and the easiest way to handle them with grace is to politely give someone a way to exit the situation comfortably. All they have to do is say, “You know, I’m sorry, that does make me feel a little uncomfortable,” and you have a chance to say, “I’m sorry,” and perhaps find someone more appropriate to ask for help.

5. Final Thoughts

One of the best parts of any close relationship is knowing that someone has your back. They’ll be there for you when you really need them, and you’ll do the same. But barring major life stress/changes when you’ll need more regular help and favors (divorce, children, moving, loss of a job, etc.), it’s good to remember that no relationship should be taken for granted, whether it’s a new acquaintance or an old friend. So keeping some of these ideas in mind when asking for favors will help you maintain and improve relationships over time and ensure that you’re able to ask for help, receive help and give it in a way that shows how much you appreciate and care for the people in your life.

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  • This is a really interesting topic, and while I agree with the above comment that its OK to ask I also agree that you should really think about what your asking before you do. I HATE saying no to people so when I’m asked to do something that I don’t want to do it can be really hard to say no. I think this is when a sense of humour can come in handy on both sides.

  • I always find asking for a favour very daunting. With some people it’s very easy, but for the most part I don’t want to inconvenience them so end up doing it myself (doesn’t always go as planned, hehe).
    I am finding that social is playing a larger role in the simple asks (can you take a look at this, etc) because people don’t necessarily feel obligation to respond (although I dislike when people just gloss it over and don’t respond with a no).
    Looking forward to the next in the series!

  • FANTASTIC article, Grace! Love this specific topic and the etiquette column as a whole. The concept of boundaries in the digital world has really transformed and from the sidelines it’s really cool to see relative strangers pitch in and help each other out. Totally looking forward to the social media post.

    In terms of the gracious helper/helpee relationship, I really think one of the more important things to be aware of is one’s attitude — on both sides of the fence. A little enthusiasm and/or humility goes a long way when asking for something, just as an enthusiastic answer (whether ‘yes!’ or ‘no! so sorry I can’t!’) goes a long way to let the helpee know you’re supporting them whether or not you can help out. This is so often forgotten when schedules and life get in the way, but it always makes the project or favor more pleasant.

  • I agree with Rebecca. If you are not comfortable or interested in helping, please say no. A big pet peeve of mine is listening to people complain about a favor they agreed to take on, “Ugh, I am doing this for so & so.” Some favors are not fun to do, but can still be done with grace and the knowledge that it was a choice. I would never want to make someone feel like that, nor would I want yet another person have to deal with that kind of negativity.

    You brought up new babies in the post. I have struggled with how to approach people with a new baby or other happenings in their life like moving or maybe an unexpected illness. How can I approach people with the offer of help or a favor without being a burden? I know that when we had an unexpected illness, we really did not want to have extra people around. We really needed the kind gifts of food and the support, but we also needed lots of rest. I found myself stressing out when people called to get recipe ideas or directions, I wanted to say “Go on the internet! I need to get off the phone.”. Our friends were trying to be nice, but it was stress at an already stressful time and it was hard to express that to people coming to you with love. Despite having this experience (maybe because of it), I still am uncertain about how to offer help. A phone call? A text? Ding dong ditch with a quiche left at the door? How do other people approach helping people with a big change in their life?

    • melissa

      i’m going to be tackling that question, too. it’s one that’s close to my heart and one that’s definitely important to talk about :)


  • I’ve been thinking about this a lot as I’m the only person in my group of friends that owns a car. I get asked all the time for favours and I feel guilty if I say no so I tend not too.

    It’s a really helpful topic and i’ll definitely be more mindful when I get asked in the future.

  • I love this so much. All of it. For me, saying a genuine THANK YOU, whether the person has offered to help or rejected your request, is so incredibly important.

  • I find that when I ask for a favor from a friend that is an interior designer, I will often barter services such as weeding the garden or do interior detailing of a room in her home if she is entertaining , often she does not have time nor the desire. I do pay for services such as draperies etc.

  • Great advice! I appreciate how thouroughly you tackled the subject and I can see myself referring back to this list later on :)

  • Maybe you’ve already discussed or read this, but …

    Interesting read that has been around a few times … actually there was just a link to it on SwissMiss http://www.theatlanticwire.com/national/2010/05/askers-vs-guessers/19730/

    About favors and askers vs guessers … in response to a relative inviting themselves to stay…

    “This is a classic case of Ask Culture meets Guess Culture.

    In some families, you grow up with the expectation that it’s OK to ask for anything at all, but you gotta realize you might get no for an answer. This is Ask Culture.

    In Guess Culture, you avoid putting a request into words unless you’re pretty sure the answer will be yes. Guess Culture depends on a tight net of shared expectations. A key skill is putting out delicate feelers. If you do this with enough subtlety, you won’t even have to make the request directly; you’ll get an offer. Even then, the offer may be genuine or pro forma; it takes yet more skill and delicacy to discern whether you should accept.

    All kinds of problems spring up around the edges. If you’re a Guess Culture person — and you obviously are — then unwelcome requests from Ask Culture people seem presumptuous and out of line, and you’re likely to feel angry, uncomfortable, and manipulated.

    If you’re an Ask Culture person, Guess Culture behavior can seem incomprehensible, inconsistent, and rife with passive aggression.

    Obviously she’s an Ask and you’re a Guess. (I’m a Guess too. Let me tell you, it’s great for, say, reading nuanced and subtle novels; not so great for, say, dating and getting raises.)

    Thing is, Guess behaviors only work among a subset of other Guess people — ones who share a fairly specific set of expectations and signalling techniques. The farther you get from your own family and friends and subculture, the more you’ll have to embrace Ask behavior. Otherwise you’ll spend your life in a cloud of mild outrage at (pace Moomin fans) the Cluelessness of Everyone.

    As you read through the responses to this question, you can easily see who the Guess and the Ask commenters are. It’s an interesting exercise.”

  • hi. great article.
    do me a favor, pretty please with sugar on top? keep up the good work ;-)

  • This is a wonderful post. I hope you’ll address email etiquette! I cannot believe how people in business and with personal emails don’t know to put the SUBJECT in the subject line (rather than re: re: re:) and that people don’t at least acknowledge emails. It’s so easy to hit reply and say “thanks for your suggestion, or I’ll keep that in mind.” It doesn’t have to be long, but just let people know you’ve heard them.

  • I find as a graphic designer, it’s VERY easy to get roped into free work for friends & relatives. I’ve come up with a “friend rate” which is 1/4 of my normal hourly rate. It keeps rounds of changes from getting too out of hand and I find it keeps me less resentful toward the project. It’s funny how some professions are more susceptible to freebies. My standard line is: no one asks a plumber to fix a sink for free “for their portfolio” :)

  • As one of the only people in my group of friends without a car, I find myself occassionally asking if someone can help me get a large item home. I think the key is to try and return the favour. I offer to help them with, say, gardening. Or hand them a fresh-baked loaf of carrot cake when they arrive…anything to make them feel less like a taxi and more like a very appreciated friend.

  • These detailed columns are great. More, please! I’m really looking forward to the email etiquette column. It really drives me crazy when people don’t respond to questions, invitations, etc. that are obviously personalized and addressed to an individual! I liked your guest column, but I’d also want to see something about short term guests (i.e., not overnight ones) for dinners, etc.

  • Here’s an anecdote about the sometimes confusing nature of being asked a favor online. One day I logged into my email to find an IM from (I thought) my good friend Lauren, asking for a favor. I quickly responded, “Anything!” without looking closely at the instant message. At second glance I saw it was a different Lauren, who I didn’t know well at all, asking nicely for me to like her new clothing line on Facebook. I happily obliged, but she must have thought I was very zealous for such a vague acquaintance. I’m also glad she just wanted a “like” since I promised compliance so hastily. Lesson being, make sure you find out crucial details before you agree to something, don’t assume. Love this column!

  • I like Melissa H.’s comment…how to offer help without patronizing or overstepping boundaries. I have a friend that has more on her plate than I do…but she frequently offers to take my kids, bring a meal, etc. It makes me feel like I am inadequate and can’t run my own household.

  • I belong to a private FB group of women who live in the same town, and attend the same church. So everyone knows everyone else personally. There is one woman, who is a single mom of 3, including a teenager. I know she has a difficult time juggling her responsibilities and finances, but almost daily, she is asking for something. A ride here, help with a project there, advice on where to find a business or service, a Halloween costume for one of her children, etc. I am amazed at how patient and kind all of the women are, because I want to yell at her for always asking, never helping. It’s always possible that she personally repays the kindnesses extended to her without my knowing about it. But, we all need to be sensitive to the impression we give others- do we always seem to be asking for things, or are we the ones graciously offering to help?
    At least with FB, there is no obligation for those in the group to all help. Those who want, can reply. Those who don’t, can keep their opinions to themselves!

  • I love this column, by the way. And this particular post got me thinking…what happens when you ask a favor kindly of someone you are friends with (but perhaps are not super-close to them), and they say they’d be happy to do said favor…but then they don’t? I suppose the graceful way is to not mention it and move along to the next step in the task. But I’ve recently gone through this dilemma and the favor was really needed, and very easy for this person to do. So far I’m not saying anything because I feel it’s much more rude to ask a favor of someone and then hound them to get the favor done! But if you have a more graceful way for me to…encourage them…I sure would like to hear it!

  • Generally, I really loathe the phrase “Can I ask you a favor?” — Majority of the time, you really cannot say no and it very much makes you feel like you HAVE to do whatever that favor is. It becomes so much more of an awkward ordeal when you express that you cannot do the requested task. There has got to be a better way to ask. Perhaps, explaining what the task is, why the requester cannot do it, and expressing the need for help. This would allow the person being spoken to to offer the help or not depending on their availability.

  • I frequently tell people, “it’s ok to say no, you won’t hurt my feelings” when asking anything, not just favors! I never know if that makes it weirder or not, but its good to hear that others say that! Maybe emphasizing the “I completely understand” part more often would be good.

    I love these posts, such a great idea!

  • This is a great idea for a column, Grace.

    I am wondering if, in the fture, you would consider writing about how “not” to ask a company for a sponsorship/ products?

    We receive many product requests and the way people ask for things astounds me–no polite intro to their emails, not addressing me by name, just giving me the address where to send items (instead of awaiting a response from me), demanding instead of asking, often “bundling” a request for items for 20-50 people when they place a ten dollar order.

    I would love to hear how other business owners handle these types of requests.

    Keep up the great work- I enjoy the freshness you and your team inject into your columns and this new column is no exception.


  • I have a special needs stepdaughter. As my husband and I are both classical musicians, we end up working together and sometimes can not find a qualified babysitter. I recently asked a life-long friend to watch her while we had different concerts in different parts of the city. We paid to take her family bowling, my stepdaughter’s favorite thing, and everyone had a blast. Sometimes is just about how you package the favor :)

    • rose

      that’s so wonderful to hear. life-long friendships are definitely worth cherishing and nourishing- it sounds like you’re both doing that perfectly :)


  • Great topic. I hate asking for favours (with a U in Canada) but I realize that asking for favours is a part of networking for work, and is useful in other things.

    Lately, my hubbie and I have been asking a good friend for electrical favours on our (old) house. But, we only ask when my husband has the exact same time to repay him in hard labour, as he is also renovating his house. It is really important to realize that when you’re asking someone for a professional favour, their time is money, and to either be prepared to repay it with your own time, or something equal. I love the idea listed above of having a 1/4 rate for friends. Smart!

  • Grace I feel like I need you as Jiminy Cricket on my shoulder. I am one of those people who find it extremely challenging to ask for help or favours. When I do so, I have thought about it a lot ahead of time, and over-analysed as usual. My biggest problem is when people say yes and then do not do what they have committed to, especially when I have given them an easy out. This has put major strain on one of my very close friendships lately. It’s really sad to be so disappointed by those you believe should truly have your back. So please really think about it before just blurting out a yes. Thanks again Grace and I’m excited to read next weeks column.

    • ashley

      i’m so sorry to hear about that. if that situation has happened a lot lately i would definitely use it as a chance to sit down and talk with those friends. there could be other things happening, or it could just be that they need a reminder that they’ve hurt your feelings and need to be more supportive. best of luck :)


  • Hi Grace! Thanks for a great post!

    Unfortunately as I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized that there are some poeple who think that other people should make their lives easier, never reciprocate in any way, shape, or form, and are always takers and not givers.

    Currently at work, I asked a co-worker (who I’ve filled-in for many times and she has not filled-in for me yet) if we could “switch” days because I have jury duty. Her reply was that she does not want to switch days because she works less than full-time and she wants to just “pick-up” my day. How do I respond to that when she knows that her hours are TWICE as much as mine? I want to respond with some humor such as: “HaHa! You’re preaching to the choir when you say you work less than full-time because I work WAAAAAAY less hours than you”. And I’ll just know in the future that if she asks to “switch” that she really prefers not to.

    Grace, I love the points you wrote about:
    Boundaries are important – EVERYONE you deal with needs boundaries of some sort.
    And I don’t believe in being “Fake Nice” – meaning if you say “yes” but then you mumble, groan, and complain about it then you are being “Fake Nice”. Please just say, “I’m sorry, I can’t”.

  • Great article! I really like this column because I’ve noticed that a lot of just normal manners has fallen by the wayside, especially with younger people (oh that makes me sound old!).
    I just thought I would add a comment to this: I think when I am asking for a favour, I am overly cautious and may make people uncomfortable because I make it very clear that they do not have to accept – i HATE taking people for granted. My friends always say yes, but I always say over and over that they don’t have to. Maybe I just have really kind friends, but it was good to read that I can have an out of them without making it explicitly obvious. I need to try this :)

  • This column is a terrific idea — thanks so much for taking this on. Also, I think the new content and themes you’ve rolled out this month are really great! I appreciate all the energy and fresh ideas.

  • I think the main thing to remember when asking for favors, is never to ask for anything you wouldn’t feel comfortable offering. This is a little bit tit-for-tat but much more golden rule. I also love the idea of bartering, but, really, any sign of appreciation goes a long way. We recently lent our SUV to friends while we were out of town, and they returned the car cleaner than it was left and with a tank full of gas. We often ask neighbors to pet sit for us and we always bring back goodies for them from our trips.

    When we all help each other out, it is not a burden but it creates our social fabric and makes us all feel cared for. When I am embarrassed to ask for something, this is what I remember.

  • Great article!
    When asking for a favor, it’s important to be up front. I find it really annoying when someone fishes for details to see if you can do something for them (“what are you doing next Tuesday…when will you be home…” etc). If I am able to accommodate your request, I will. You don’t need to analyze my schedule to see if can do something for you. If I ask my neighbor to babysit my kids in a pinch, I would explain the situation directly, rather than ask her “so, what are you doing tomorrow?”

  • I really like this column and find a lot of the info useful and logical, but would love to know more about the sources and where the advice comes from. Without more background it reads a bit like “Grace’s opinion on the best way to do X, Y, Z.”

    • rebecca

      this column is primarily my advice on these topics. sometimes my thoughts will be combined with research gleaned from books or online (which will be cited if used) and feedback from our team, family members and other bloggers. but primarily it will be my thoughts on these issues.


  • Regarding Melissa H’s comment about how to deal with the people who want to help: I had a medical crisis. I had lots of friends who wanted to help which was fantastic, but hard to manage. A close friend of mine became the liaison. She would schedule meals, when people could come to visit, etc. It lasted a few months, and it was awesome. I am still paying forward all that help!

  • This is lovely. I’m excited to see more etiquette answers. I’ve been in a season of needing lots of help and patience from my friends. I’ve felt like I needed to play catch up for a while, but I finally realized on Thursday that there is no debt to be paid — friends are glad to be there. I’m sure it helped that there was nothing else I could do. It makes me want to unconditionally love others in this new season of life.

  • Great article! I recently moved form Canada to Ecuador, and often receive emails from total strangers who plan to visit the country, or make a move, asking for information. I always try to answer and help to my best ability, but few people acknowledge that they received the response, or email back to say thanks. I think it’s VERY rude, and turns me off from helping them in the future.
    I’m also often asked for information very easily available on the internet, and I may start sending a link to google.

  • I have a ton of friends in creative industries, so we all barter for each others items. I just made a deal with one of my jewelry designer friends, I am going to make her a dress in exchange for a custom piece of jewelry. It’s a great way to perfect your craft while getting stylish goods in the process!!

  • Grace, you’ve said your next post will pertain to etiquette and social media. I’m not sure what different topics you’ll cover, but would you consider including something about what/how to post comments on a blog? I just came from reading today’s Apartment Therapy posts, and it always astonishes me how rude people can be! It seems like it should be so easy for people to not comment at all if they’re just going to be mean and critical (especially on posts that didn’t request critical feedback), but so many seem to be compelled to criticize and offer unsolicited advice. Thanks.

  • Definitely appreciate this post. I also want to point out that one of the benefits of having somebody ask you a favor that you just don’t have time for or don’t want to help with over the internet – you’re absolutely allowed to answer over the internet too, which is a lot less difficult (except for the wording) than saying it to someone’s face. Great post.

  • Loved the column and the post. I have a great friend who has a phrase that become famous among our friends when asking for favors: “no matter your answer, The friendship remains the same. “And I try to say almost the same to others when asking for a favor: “please, feel comfortable to say yes or no, and there’s no need to explain your reasons; my admiration for you won’t change. ” And I try to make other people confortable asking me. I always say “feel free to ask so I’ll feel free to answer”. And when I am able to help, when people come to thank me, I say : “thank you for the opportunity to help”. Being sincere and open is the best way to avoid issues. And people who change their behavior if you say “no” are quite selfish – they’re free to ask and you are not free to answer?? Tks for bringing the topic!!
    And Maya: I feel your pain. I moved from Brazil to a city very clise to Manhattan and in almost 6 years I answered tons of emails with requests for hotels, best places to go, tips about restaurants, etc. Just a couple of them sent a thank you. Last time a person asked me about the weather and I sent her the link to the Weather Channel :)

  • Another great etiquette column. When asking for anything, I tend to consider the Southern phrase that you catch more bees with honey than with vinegar. I find that being considerate and kind gets me much more in this sort of situation than being demanding. And as you said, I say thank you before, during, and after the favor.

  • What a great column, Grace! I love this, and it’s great to read the thoughts and ideas from others as well. {applause}

  • Thanks for writing this. I really feel as though I know so much more about this than I did before. Your blog really brought some things to light that I never would have thought about before reading it.

  • Dear Grace, thank you for the thoughts and kindness in your article. I wish I had found it earlier. I LOVE etiquette topics but sometimes am less than gracious when encountering people who do not abide by the rules of etiquette. And recently, I’m afraid I’ve been none too kind to someone.
    In my spare time I love writing travel reviews and while my reviews are highly rated, people react differently to them. Some just praise them, share their own experiences with the place, or ask for minor on-topic info, all which are fine with me. Other people though demand imperiously that I plan their holidays for them (!) Recently one guy literally bombarded me with private emails and public off-topic posts in my reviews just because he wanted me to design his trip for him. Now it’s early November, his trip is at the end of January and not only he had done no research of his own, but he wanted full details yesterday! He wasn’t evil, just extremely entitled, obnoxious and oblivious to the amount of work his requests would entail. Eventually I replied curtly asking him to move his requests to the forum section so he can get help from the entire community, to stop singling me out and to stop bombarding me with private e-mails as I was starting to feel harrassed. And I’ve been accused of not being very nice as a result …
    While I do not regret my message in the least, still I wonder whether I could have handled the situation tactfully.

  • This was helpful! The blog post and comments helped me formulate a request to my community of preschool parents to help transport my child to school on Wednesday mornings when I have a staff meeting at work.

    My suggestion is to add a good graphic to an email or text request, if you can find one. I went to Google Images and searched for “thanks” and came up with an image of chocolate chip cookies with a thank you note in front of the platter. I think it helped to seal the deal…

  • I (a disabled vet with severe cat allergies) actually had to leave this in a “user type” – the kind that never smiles at you unless they want something -neighbor’s mail slot:

    Dear (Nameless Neighbor),

    It’s been disclosed that (my fiancé) was asked to tend your cats upon your absence to vacation. If you haven’t discovered yet, (said fiancé) has a bad case of “No-itis” – He can’t say no.

    That’s o.k., because I can.

    He is working 2, count them, two jobs and is lucky to have LITERALLY 60 seconds of home time between . He WILL NOT be able to tend to your cats while you are away.

    Please note, through your long residence at these condos and time on the board, there are many residents that work only 1 job (or less), and have a lot more time on their hands, that could help fulfill your request more easily. Also note there are MANY local veterinarians that will be very happy to board your pet(s).

    As we are still just a year and a half in, and sadly not quite settled with very rare & very little free time on our hands, for the next couple of years, it would be greatly appreciated if we are left to ourselves without the burden of outside favors and requests (as we are even still trying to plan our future wedding between the precious little time we have free between us).
    Sorry for any misunderstandings.

  • hi just want to thank u for reminding me how important it is to make sure your friends & family. dose not feel as if you are taking advantage of them. thank u again

  • You are spot on, but you leave out one very important factor when asking for a favor. The asking part. So many people just assume you’ll do this for them, they don’t even bother asking. This disturbing trend covers everything from a spouse dumping a pair of pants which need to be mended in your lap to a driver wanting to pull out into traffic. A “Could you please mend my pants?” and simply making eye contact with other drivers with a hopeful look goes a very long way in favor asking.

  • Question! We needed a place to stay in Florida and were unable to find anything to rent. We called friends who live there who said they thought they had a line on something. She called back and said aa good friend of her father-in-law owned a gorgeous waterfront condo but he didn’t rent it. Because the relationship that existed with the father-in-law he agreed to let us stay in his home while he was away for a pittance. My step-son asked his father if he could stay with us when his rental expires after a week. He wants to spend a week with using this man’s home. I think this is crossing the line. This is not a regular rental. It is a colossal favour for a ridiculously low cover charge. I have told my husband it is very poor manners, presumptuous and I find it embarrassing that he would even put our friends on the spot by asking if his son can stay too. Is this not crossing the line in asking for a favour upon a gracious one already given?

    • marnie

      i think if you’re already staying there (without the home owner, right?) it’s fine to have your son stay with you for the same dates, provided he’s not inviting other guests over or mis-using the property. it would just be like taking a family vacation, yes?

      if the home owner is there then yes, i would ask the owner if it’s ok if your son joins you, sans any other guests. family is family, so i don’t think it’s so out of line, unless the son is asking to stay outside of the time you’d already paid for.


  • It’s so important for the person asking the favor to give a kindly out like, “please say no if you’re uncomfortable with doing this.” I’m in a situation with a disabled friend who uses guilt to get me to do favors for her. The favors always start off to be simple, but she always manages to ask more of me once she has me in the situation. I’m tired of it and ready to end our friendship of 32 years because she takes so much time away from my family.

  • Thank you for your article. I have been pre-occupied all morning by a strange request from an acquaintance. Via FB message, she buttered me up with insincere (and inaccurate!) flattery and then demanded that I call her because she had something important to discuss. It just rubbed me the wrong way. I printed off your page and went through your steps one-by-one and did an analysis of the situation. It worked! I know that I was bothered because she was not upfront about her request, she did not say please/thank you, nor give me the courtesy of an out. I will message her tonight and ask her to call me this weekend and if she can’t reach me, she can message me with her thoughts. Now I can let it go and do my work. Yay for healthy boundaries!

    • All of your comments are useful and as a person that used to give assistance all the time, supporting all my family members and friends, I have had to learn to say no. I went through several very stressful situations in quick succession, including almost loosing my life. These people whom I considered close relationships were unsupportive and did not recognise that their behaviour was selfish to meet their own needs, they lied in order to obtain the support they wanted. and when I was at my most vulnerable, tried exploiting me. After attempting (Because they wouldn’t listen) to make them aware of how their behaviour upset me, I had to disconnect from them. Relationships have to be give and take not take take take and NO…..

  • I’ve recently become friends with a couple guys I met at a bar. We’ve hung out a handful of times at a bar and then a couple times outside of the bar. One of these guys recently asked the both of us to do a pretty heavy favor to help his parents build a deck out at their cabin. And saying “asked” is being rather kind. He actually, out of the blue, said “my parents are old and they are going to need your help next weekend.”

    I found this to be quite rude considering I’ve only known the guy a couple of months.

    Generaly how long should you have known a person before asking such a demanding favor of them?

    • Bob

      You have every right to pass on this request. If you don’t set boundaries now, you definitely can’t expect him to understand that that’s asking too much. So I’d speak up now.


  • Hi, thank you for this article.

    I have a precarious situation, where I must ask my cousin for a job.

    My cousin is 3 years older than I, we grew up together but have not really spoken in 10 years. He is now very wealthy.

    His company specializes in internet marketing, something I really want to learn. I need to call him and ask if he would let me intern for free, hopefully leading towards paid employment.

    I have no experience in this field.

    There has always been a bit of tension between this cousin and I. I have had favors rejected in the past (over 10 years ago). However I have had medium size favors granted over the years and he has always been there when I NEEDED him.

    It is disconcerting to be asking someone far more powerful than yourself for a favor (even if they are family). I want him to feel comfortable with saying “No”. But I really want him to say yes.

    What is the best way to go about this request?

    Thank you for the reply.

    Kind Regards,


    • Marcus

      I understand how you feel, but I think asking him in a straight forward way as you just explained here is totally fine. It sounds as if he’s said “No” to requests before, so I think as long as you don’t add any guilt to the situation and just ask in a straight-forward way, you should be fine. I hope it works out!


  • If someone did you a favor once and you asked their price (photography) and they don’t charge you but a year or two later ask you to call a place for them and set up their account and personal info because their account expires and you barely know them, can you say no? It makes me uncomfortable to keep helping them. They asked me a year ago and I did it and now when it expires, they keep having me call because they moved to another country and it is long distance. It seems annoying because you can purchase a prepaid long distance card for stuff like that. I said no this time because I feel used and I am busy and have a lot of places to call for myself that I haven’t been getting done.

  • When it comes to family.. what is consider an appropriate favor and what isn’t? My brother and sister-in-law constantly ask my boyfriend for favors because he has a trailer and his handing, moving things and cutting trees. However, when I asked them for a favor to pick up my daughter after school for a week they flat out said no since they didn’t want to disturbed their daughter’s nap time, even though she doesn’t work. Which I think is a selfish excuse for not reciprocating. What are your thoughts with family and favors?

    • Vanessa

      First thing’s first: your boyfriend (and you) shouldn’t follow through on any favors that aren’t convenient for you (or an emergency for them). If you continue to do favors for them and they won’t help you out in any other way, that will lead to resentment. So if this is truly a one-sided situation, you should end it now. You can simply explain that you feel as though they’re taking advantage of your boyfriend’s professional skills and services and that beyond a certain amount (maybe once a month?) or borrowing, you won’t be able to continue. They should respect and understand those boundaries, period.

      I don’t know your sister-in-law’s situation, but a lot of moms have very big rules about not disturbing young children’s nap schedules. These parents are most likely going without a lot of sleep (and coming off years of very little sleep) if they have a young child who is still on a nap schedule. So they MAY be happy to reciprocate with other favors, but not one that interrupts sleep schedules (and if your brother is at work and she’s home with her daughter, she can’t leave her alone to pick up your daughter).

      If they are unwilling to help with OTHER things that do work for their schedule then yes, you have a reason to be upset. But if something doesn’t work for their schedule and they can’t make it work but they still help out with other things, I don’t think it’s worth being upset over.


  • I followed all the appropriate considerations mentioned above. The request was to an old colleague and friend from our early real estate career. We worked for the same real estate company in our 20’s. He met my sister then and we used to go skiing when we worked together! He also sold my condo 8 yrs. ago and was compensated for his service as the broker. The request was simple if he would be willing to contact my younger sister who is considering to change careers and would like to get his take on the real estate industry and ask the pros and cons selling high end houses. He said he would. 3 mos. have passed since the request and he has yet to contact my sister? I do not understand why a small kindness that would take no more than 30 minutes has gone undone. Pls. help me understand why a person would show such lack of courtesy after agreeing to do the favor. Thank you.

    • Margaret

      I think you may be over-thinking this person’s motives. Life is hectic, people get busy and things slip people’s minds. Has your sister reached out to him? If he’s offering free advice, I think the task is hers to reach out, not his.


  • Thank you. I will share your suggestion with my younger sister. Have a lovely Autumn. mSm

  • It’s interesting to read this as people all have very different feelings about favours etc.

    I have an ex who used to keep a mental scorecard of EVERYTHING he did for anyone which I found absolutely infuriating (partly because it also worked the other way around so I would be scolded for making him chicken soup when he was ill because then he felt beholden, when I didn’t expect anything in return).

    I have a friend who is resentful even to be invited something she doesn’t want to go to because ‘they shouldn’t put me in that position’ (in which she has to say no).

    I have another friend who gets angry if someone asks her favour because ‘can’t they tell I’m busy?!’ (No, she hasn’t told them she’s busy and they don’t see her every day).

    I on the other hand enjoy being asked because I like feeling that others trust me and do not feel afraid to ask. I will say no if I really can’t, but I normally really enjoy the feeling that I am helping someone out. It’s not totally selflessness, of course, sometimes I just enjoy the boost to my own self esteem I get from being helpful and from feeling like I have made someone’s life easier or put a smile on their face. It makes me feel good about myself.

    I personally find it difficult to ask for favours, however, and always make a really big deal out of everything I have previously tried to do myself and that this really is a last resort and I’m so terribly sorry etc….I don’t know why I find it so difficult as I personally can’t help but look down on my friends sometimes when they get angry about being asked. I think it is a sign of cowardice. They have the right to say no, and they’re only angry because they don’t like saying no and they’re (wrongly) blaming the person who ‘made them feel that way’ (actually, your emotions are your own responsibility). In my view, one always has a right to ask, and one always has a right to say no.

    Yet despite all that, I still feel uncomfortable with asking for help…

  • Question on text phone etiquette neighbor asks favor once says emergency can I pick up child said OK but I’m not working days I feel horrible well this neighbor has called 10 times today 1 text needs to know ASAP if I can do all week then came to house twice I didn’t answer first time cause didn’t want to feel guilty then when that person kept calling and coming felt harassed I think if I don’t answer after 2nd call than its a no am I wrong I just don’t want this to be habit

  • So read what you wrote as I am having a problem with a family member constantly asking for favors. I dont mind helping i really dont. But this person ask for favors quite often. They range from can you take my dog to the vet and pay for it. Can you pick up some groceries for me and bring them over, and can i burrow some money. Unfortunately most of the favors always seem to be around money for them. I know their living situation isnt ideal but its not bad either. And these favors i wouldnt classify as and emergency either. For instance the vet visits are just for a check up for the dog and to get their toenails clipped. I even asked them have you tried to reschedule so the vet visits dont happen while your at work? they say they go with what every day and time the vet gives. Or for the groceries i asked if they could pick them up on their way home and they tell me its out of the way.

    Now they also always tell me i have the option to say no but the moment i tell them i cant they always say a small comment like so your not willing to help family or fine ill take time off and loose money then.
    Then when I ask for a favor they always seem to have a reason to say no. Which after they do i just let it go as I dont like to start fights. Now they have never paid me back on the money i loaned or spent and ive never tried to bring it up.

    So is it fine to say you know No more? If so how should i go about it cause i always seem to end up doing it one way or another as if i dont it always comes off with me being selfish and ungrateful.

    • Robert

      You’re well within your rights to say no to any of these offers. It sounds like maybe now would be a good time to start saying no to break the cycle, especially when they’re things they could easily re-schedule to work within their own time frame.


  • I enjoyed reading your article it was very insightful.
    But i have a general question. I have some friends that ask for favors daily every week. Got no problem helping and majority of the time they are kind and courteous.
    But my question is, Would that be a little excessive to ask for favors everyday all week long? Or as long as both the helper and Helpee are good its ok?

    • Cassie

      It sounds like those favors might be indicative of a larger need for help underneath- could you talk to that friend about why these favors pop up on a daily basis and if there’s anything else you could help them with to deal with the underlying cause? Is that friend in over their head? Do they need financial help? Do they need help setting up a schedule? There may be a root cause you could help with.

      But the bottom line is, if you’re ok with helping someone, it’s not a problem. I grew up in a community where people often helped each other with babysitting, rides, etc on a regular basis and everyone seemed just fine with it. So it’s really more about whether or not you’re ok with this and helping. If you are, then it sounds like you have a good friend and vice verse.


  • I’m at my breaking point with my SIL. She is constantly asking me for favours. I’m in bed sick as a dog and she still asks me to take her kid meds at school because she is working. I’m still sick and she rings me and tries to disguise her favour asking with checking on me. I personally have a hard time asking for help, I’m used to doing it on my own, I don’t understand this kind of person. She does not say please and thank you, she doesn’t repay favours and when money is involved she conveniently forgets to pay. I’ve tried saying “no”, regardless of the favour but she still asks. My husband is overly sensitive and doesn’t take criticism of his siblings very well, he either tries to joke things off or says he will do (it), and will not actually address the issue.

    • OOF

      The best solution is to stop doing the favors, period. If she’s not returning them or being appreciative, you’re enabling the situation but continuing to return the favors. So I’d back off and see how that effects her behavior.


      • Thanks, that’s what I’ve tried, she just keeps asking, truly relentless.

  • Grace,

    I would like to ask my neighbours to peak in on my cat over the holidays for a week. I haven’t had any real interaction with them, but they seem like friendly, easy going people. I will offer to pay. What is the best way to ask someone a favour upon a first official meeting? (I’ve been horrible and haven’t introduced myself yet but I’ve only been living in the building for 2 weeks.

    • Jenny

      That’s a tough one, as you haven’t had any contact with them yet. I would write them a nice note so they don’t feel put on the spot. I would ask kindly (mention that you’d like to compensate them for their time) and then just leave your phone # if they are able to help you out, but no worries if not. Then perhaps close with an offer to connect for coffee or a meal at your house after the holidays? I would just make an effort to make it clear you’d like to know them outside of needing a favor from them :)


      • Grace,

        You’ve made some good points. In retrospect I wish that I had exercised better etiquette and introduced myself properly upon arrival. I just didn’t want to disturb them by popping by announced and was feeling overly glum about moving to a new city alone. I will reach out to them on a more personal level after the holidays.

  • I am a veterinarian and this also means I get a lot of questions from acquaintainces who try to solicit professional advice from me for free. I’m also on a veterinary consult service app that offers veterinary advice for a very nominal fee (starting at $2) and I’ve referred them to the app for future questions after answering their initial ones for free.

    How do I handle future questions if despite my recommendation to ask through the app, people are still approaching me for free advice? What can I say without offending them, keeping in mind that it took years of expensive training and hard earned skills to become a veterinarian while still being loaded with enormous student debt? Your advice would be greatly appreciated!

    • Hi Sooty

      I would say that unless they’re dear friends, they should make an appointment because it’s not safe for you to make recommendations without examining the pet in person.


  • I have a relative who just seems unable to ask for favors. She says “I’ll let you do that” instead of asking for what she wants. I personally find this offensive. It’s almost as if she isn’t giving the person a chance to say no. While I still help her out when I can doing so leaves me feeling used and resentful of her. Needless to say she doesn’t get as much help as she would if she had asked politely. This person displays other “toxic qualities” and has basically run off others in our family by her behavior. In some respects I feel sorry for her. It’s the main reason I still help her at all.

  • My partner gets called upon by relatives, friends, and neighbours to do favours all the time, and he can’t say no, which I find annoying as there’s plenty to do at our house, he works full-time away from home most of the week, and we have two small children, so our family time is pretty precious to me. Recently, an older, but independent neighbour asked for (another) favour, quite persistently, chasing us. A date was set, but my other half couldn’t do it, and rescheduled. When the new date came, something came up that he couldn’t get out of, and I called her and left a message (she didn’t answer the phone) to say he wouldn’t be able to come, but would contact her to rearrange the date. The next day, we received a type-written letter through our door from this lady (clearly she had not checked her answer-phone) stating how disappointed she was, how she would take her “business” elsewhere etc, etc. We were flabbergasted, particularly as this came on a very stressful week for us personally. My parents always told me that if someone is kind enough to do you a favour, they do it on their terms, so we thought the letter was very rude. One thing for certain is my other half has decided that he will not do any more favours for this person, but as we have to live near each other, we don’t want any bad feeling between us, and don’t know how to resolve this amicably, but at the same time, we feel she should apologise for her rudeness. Another couple who we were very friendly with, but hardly see now, asked my other half to do some electrical work for them, which took a couple of days. He was happy to give his time for free, but had to buy electrical hardware to do the job – the couple concerned have never reimbursed us for the goods bought (£500!), and when he has asked for the money, they ignore us, however they still feel they can turn up uninvited when it suits them as if nothing has happened, and what’s even more galling is that they will brag about the latest iPad they have bought, or the latest bike they have bought! I think we are learning that we need to stop doing favours for people!

  • I’m wonder what the etiquette is for ending a favor, so to speak, if anyone knows.

    Example: I agreed to help a friend by storing some of their things at my place while they get settled and find their own after the moved from the other side of the country. This friend isn’t staying at my place, but staying in various hotels trying to find an area they liked. I agreed, thinking nothing of it.

    10 months later and the stuff is still here, and the friend still hasn’t gotten their own place (not for lack of funds, said friend just seems to be enjoying their nomadic lifestyle – at my expense as a storage unit. Friend gets rooms cheaper than rent and has no need to worry about the safety of his things. And I’m feeling very used about it at this point), and while their possessions aren’t an actual bother in my life, I’m just annoyed with it now. While I know it’s my fault for agreeing without a timeline, is there a polite way to go to my friend and let them know I want their items removed from my home?

    • Jess

      I would sit them down and be honest and say that you were happy to hold things for a while, but that you need your space back. I would give them a month to figure something out and if that doesn’t work, you could donate the pieces to the Goodwill (they will come pick things up) if they aren’t serious about their storage items. (A nicer alternative to putting things out in a box…)


  • What do I do if I have asked someone for a favor very politely and they simply ignore the request? “Angry” Deidre would love to email them again and confront them about ignoring me…luckily I have self control.

  • I’ve had an online friend I’ve known for years, though we don’t hang around in person very much. She is in a field I want to be in and has gotten experience, but I’m afraid to ask her because I don’t want to seem like I’m being a bad friend because there’s hardly anything I can do for her in return. How would you go about this?

    • Joanna

      You don’t have to offer anything in return except being a good friend. If you’re asking for a reasonable level of advice and feedback (ie: not mining her for personal contacts and advice you could research online or would typically pay someone a lot for), it should be fine for her to help lend her expertise.


      • This is tough, I was going to ask if she knew any directors who were casting projects. I’m having a hard time as I don’t live in an area where I know many creative people as well as I’m having trouble getting cast in local productions despite some of the directors liking me. Even if I am trying to find some way in myself, I’ve been reluctant to ask her because I don’t want to come off that way. She’s had more of a leg up and I’m really trying to do much of this on my own, I hate for people to think I’m taking advantage if I ask their help on this.

  • I love your article!

    I have a friend, A, whom I wasn’t really close with, but upon learning that her family was against her marrying her boyfriend and nobody from her family was attending her wedding in New York, I felt compelled to attend her wedding just to show moral support. Because I was from out of town, she introduced me and one of her best friends, B, to a nice woman, C, who was living in town to offer us a place to stay while in New York. We ended up having a good time together and I felt that all of us became good friends. After getting married, A then moved to New York.

    A few months later, I was planning on another trip to New York. I contacted both A and C to see if we can meet up. A told me that she’d be out of town, C told me she’d be a tad busy, thus will not be able to show me around or take me to places, but I am welcomed at her house.

    As the timing grew closer, I contacted C again just to make sure that I can stay over and she said okay with the proviso she would not be able to take me out too much, and she’s completely aware that I also have other friends in town, so that I’m free to hang out with them as well. I am completely okay with that arrangement.

    That same day in the evening, all of the sudden I received contact from B, telling me that A was extremely upset and disappointed that I did not consult her in advance that I was going to ask C if I could stay at her place. Afterwards A sent me a long text (after I had sent a text to her apologizing for whatever it was I did to upset her) saying that it was a serious manner faux pas and it was unacceptable that I had just bypassed the proper communication way. She said I should’ve also been more considerate and not ask C this kind of favor because C is currently extremely busy, even A was hesitant to ask C out or to visit C at her place.

    A was our of town when I’m in New York and when I asked C directly if I could stay again at her place, she said okay, so this situation with A baffles me. Was there a line that I accidentally crossed here? Any advice on the next steps I should take?

    • Veronica

      Your only issue here is with C. Does she feel put out or offended by your request? I would ask her directly, but since you followed up (assuming you weren’t pressuring her or laying any guilt), she’s well within her rights as an adult to just say, “No, I’m afraid I don’t feel comfortable with that.”

      I would touch base with C, make sure she’s ok, and then touch base with A to explain that C is fine, and that if A has a problem with it, she should talk to C directly. And why was B involved in the first place? This feels like a case of too much gossip and not enough direct communication between “friends”. Sorry :(


  • Hi Grace!
    Been a long time reader/fan of your blog since 07′ but have been too shy to post or ask questions. I guess I’m more of a ghost reader but this topic has hit a note with me. So felt compelled to chime in after all these years.
    Recently connected with someone I was friends with in past. They are in same industry and jumpstarted their business few years prior. They contacted me to ask if I could show support for it and spread word. I did — made purchases and shared with my friends who are now clients of theirs. I finally got my own business off the ground and asked if they could be so kind as to reciprocate and share word on mine to friends of theirs. I get silence and suddenly ignored. I’m not only taken aback but also hurt by the gesture. It feels like a slap in the face and reminds me of that idiom of “no good deed goes unpunished” I tried shrugging it off but it happened once more with 3 other colleagues who I’ve supported in their ventures but ignore or feign ignorance when I confront them directly and ask if they can lend some assistance in spreading word or sharing friendly advice.

    What would you do in this situation?

    • Hi Kristen

      I’m sorry that happened. I don’t think good deeds should be done only with the expectation that they be returned one day, but I understand why you feel upset. I think it would be fine to reach out and ask if there’s a reason they haven’t been able to speak up (they may have something else going on you know nothing about) or a reason they don’t feel comfortable promoting. I would give them the chance to explain before assuming anything.


  • Hello ou there I have a question please. I will be going to Florida for a couple of months this time, I’ll be transporting my car down to meet me hopefully on the day I arrive. Here is my question of option please., I have a confirmation on a rental car after getting off the plane, but thinking about it now I thought of our good friends who we know for 20 years if they can pick us up at the airport & I could cancel the car rental, they live across the street from us it’s a Saturday. Please reply what do you think I already e mailed them in regards to this, I think I should call on the phone. My husband said don’t ask them we will take a cab from the airport to our place I said no to the cab.

  • I have another question please, my good friends for many years & she looked out for me when I worked with her at work, her son has a book out its called wisdom to win with. My question is I’m not interested in purchases I will not tell her, but should I purchase two on line for support & pass onto and give as a gift to my friends. The book has lines example follow your dream it’s never to late. Ps she just asked me today did I buy the book yet on line.? Thank you pls reply.

  • Oh my goodness I have a similar story like the one above, we my husband & myself meet a couple at the pool while at our summer home, we hit it off & have been friend for many years they leave out of town but vacation in our gated community, very lovely people. We let them stay at our place when we were not there because the place they rented out could only let them rent for two months they stay on vacation for around 6 months. Everything was good with our place except for a broken plate with I had trouble replacing but found soon after. By the way they are up there in age. Well here is the ticker when I returned to my place they already left to go home & thank us many times I open the closet & find not one but two plastic giant containers with his & her clothes inside I was surprised. When talking on the phone I said oh I found containers in my closet with your clothes see said oh yes I hope you don’t mind I said do you know when you will be down renting & taken your clothes they both from this day still don’t know when they will be returning, I ended up putting in my garage which I don’t like to look out its an eye sore for me especially I am one who does not like clutter any wear. What should I do. My husband is upset with this.

  • That is a great tip particularly to those new to the blogosphere.
    Simple but very precise info… Thanks for sharing this one.
    A must read article!

  • I’ve recently been going through a lot in my personal life, and just lost a second loved one in two months. An acquaintance (single) who is vaguely aware that things are rough sent me an email asking me to please let him know if there is anything I need. I don’t usually accept offers of help, but sometimes it is nice to get out and talk to someone who doesn’t know you all that well and won’t drill you for the details on what’s happening. I asked if a cup of coffee fell into the “anything” category, and haven’t heard from him in several days. I will eventually see him again, and it’s going to be awkward if he never responds. How long do you wait for someone to say yes or no to your ask? What do you do if someone offers help, then disappears when you ask for something as simple as a cup of coffee together? Do I send a clarification email to let him know exactly what I’m asking for in case he thinks I’m hitting on him?

  • So I needed a drive to a medical appointment and a co-worker offered to take me. She would not accept money for gas because she said she had planned on going anyways. She also did not have time for lunch. Afterwards she told me anytime you need a ride I’d be happy to take you. So how do I repay her?

  • I now find myself in a situation where I offered to do someone a favour once to attend an event and now, a year later, they’re expecting the same thing from me, despite circumstances improving.

    I am part of a hobby group consisting of 7 people. There are 3 newer ones but of them, 2 are neighbours who have known each other for years and come to the group together.

    Last year, one of the neighbours, Joanne, had an accident that left her incapacitated for a few months. This meant she didn’t come to the group for that time. As Joanne was slowly getting better and doing more of her normal routines (still not coming to the group yet), we became aware of the dependence her neighbour, Pauline, has on her. For instance, when Pauline’s husband passed away, Joanne, would take Pauline grocery shopping. Likewise, when they started at our group, Joanne would also drive herself and Pauline here.

    As Joanne was unable to come for a while, Pauline would take a bus here as she’s never learnt to drive. She would grumble that there was no-one to take her grocery shopping as Joanne was taken by one of her relatives. When Joanne could do more for herself, she took herself grocery shopping at a different time to she normally did but did not offer to take Pauline. I’m guessing Joanne’s original offer to Pauline caused her to adjust her own schedule to accommodate her and she saw her own recuperation from her accident as an opportunity to restore her regular routine since Pauline is perfectly capable of getting a bus or a taxi. Plus, Joanne was still recuperating and could only do so much herself anyway.

    We soon got to know that Pauline was unhappy with Joanne’s change of routine (which may have been her original routine before she offered to help Pauline anyway).

    We had an event coming up which had been planned for several months before Joanne’s accident. Before Joanne was beginning to use her car again, Pauline was concerned about how they were both going to get there (approximately 30 minute drive south east from their home), plus Joanne was using a wheelchair whenever her relative took her grocery shopping.

    My son is disabled and I drive him around in his wheelchair accessible vehicle, so I made the offer that as Joanne needed use of a wheelchair, I could take her (and Pauline as she lived just over the road from Joanne).

    My trip to the event was also 30 minutes south east from my home (same direction, different road) and I was collecting Jasmine en-route as she lived a 4 minute drive east of me. I was also originally going to go in my own, smaller car, but since I then offered to collect Joanne and Pauline, I had a 4 min drive east to collect Jasmine, 3 min drive west back to the main road to collect Joanne and Pauline who live 9 minute drive south of my home to then drive the 30 minute south east to the event. And the reverse on the return journey. Now, I did offer and I never complained about this.

    This year, we’re all attending the same event. Joanne’s back to herself, driving, etc. All good. The other newer lady, Fiona, was unable to attend last year as she was abroad but she’s able to make it this year. However, as she’s in and out of the country a lot, and so her car doesn’t get much use and there is a part which she is going to have fitted the very day before the event. It may not even start! I figured since I was driving 4 mins east to collect Jasmine anyway, I’d then drive 6 min north east to collect Fiona and we could travel the 25 min south west from her house. All good.

    Joanne’s not been to the group these last couple of weeks as she had the flu. Pauline asked if I was still collecting them. This took me by surprise! I said I had made no arrangements or offers with them this year and figured as Joanne was now fine from her accident last year and she drives, she’d be driving her and Pauline. Pauline then says that Joanne only drives locally and doesn’t like driving further afield. What? 30 minutes/aka 15 miles is too far? Then she mumbled, “I guess we won’t be going then”. She actually mumbled that twice! Oh right, so it’s all on me then? I didn’t realise that an offer to help for ONE year because of Joanne’s temporary incapacity made me responsible for getting them to the event every year!

    So I said if Joanne could drive them both to my house (9 minutes north from them), then I’ll take them from there in my son’s car collecting Jasmine and Fiona en-route. She just said oh right, ok.

    Later that week, Jasmine called me as she was reading me a recipe she had to find on an item we were previously talking about. She asked how our group went the week before (she wasn’t there, neither was Sally, Fiona or Joanne). I said there was just myself, Rachel and Pauline and it was fine. She pressed asking if it was at all eventful. I had the feeling she knew something, so mentioned what happened above. I said it sounded like she already knew something and asked how so.

    Jasmine told me that Sally had spoken with her (they’re in regular contact outside the group). Apparently, Pauline had called Sally saying that Sally would have to take her and Joanne to the event as I refused to! Last year Sally just took Rachel. Her car is so tiny that people would struggle getting in the back especially as none of us is very young! Both Sally and Jasmine knew there was more to this telling of the story that they were hearing but at least now Jasmine knew the truth! She even said to me that Pauline is the kind of person, who, even when a solution (my compromise) is presented to her, she still sees it as an obstacle.

    The last time the group met, it was attended by myself, Jasmine, Rachel and Pauline. Pauline began telling Jasmine that she and Joanne wouldn’t be able to go as they don’t have a ride. I’m so glad Jasmine and I talked earlier in the week! When Jasmine probed Pauline for further information about Joanne’s wellness and whether she drove, Pauline said that Joanne would only drive locally. I then reiterated that if Joanne were to drive them to my house, I would take them from there. Jasmine agreed that was a reasonable offer and Pauline mumbled her agreement. I still don’t think she’s happy!
    *Names have been changed*

    • Claire

      I got a little lost in the details here, but the bottom line is that if there’s no official car-pool situation, you’re under no obligation to pick people up, period. It was kind of you to get them last year because you had a wheelchair-friendly vehicle. But that doesn’t sign you up to receive complaints if you don’t repeat the action. It sounds like Joanne’s kindness with Pauline has been taken for granted, so that’s a situation Joanne may need to address on her own.

      Can Pauline find public transport to these places? If not, maybe this social group should designate a central location where people who need a ride can meet to be picked up? Or next year possibly picking places that are accessible by public transport? If that’s an option, she should be able to get herself there (unless there’s a reason, medically, that’s not been disclosed) if she wants to be a part of a group that takes part in events.


  • I love your article and I share the same feelings towards the basic etiquette when asking for favors. It really frustrates me how sometimes people, especially between friends, can take the other’s help for granted.

    I’m currently in this situation where I made a trip to the restaurant to help my friend order a take out. Since her order was a little special, I double checked the receipt to make sure that the order was correct, which it was. So I didn’t think to check the food itself when the take out was ready. But when I got home, we found out that the order was wrong and my friend got angry so I offered to go back to the restaurant to get it fixed. But my friend insisted that since I didn’t double check the food when she wanted me to do so, I should still apologize for the screw up (since ultimately I still brought back the wrong order).

    I don’t know if what she said is right. It’s true that when you did something wrong you should apologize but I thought I was already apologizing in a way by going back to change the order, so there’s no need for me to have to say the actual words “I’m sorry for the screw up”. In a way I feel that she is being ungrateful by still demanding for an apology when I’ve already gone out in the cold weather twice for her food, but she did show her gratitude in some way by acknowledging the fact that I have to go through the trouble of going back again to change the order. But somehow I still feel unhappy about being blamed and having to be scolded, yet at the same time wondering whether I’m too sensitive about this favor.


  • I have a friend who asks for favors quite often. She doesn’t have a car so I pick her up and take her places she needs to go. She is a sweet lady and I like her but when she asks for a favor she says, “I’ll LET you pick me up” or “I’ll LET you drop it off at my house – instead of “Will you do this for me?” I don’t mind her asking for something. I just don’t like the way she asks. And she does not say “Thank you” very much. Would you please give me a few pointers about how to tactfully deal with this? Thx.

    • C.T.

      I think directness is best here. I would say, “[Name], I’m happy to be able to help you anything I can, but when you make jokes about letting me help you, it hurts my feelings. Please don’t make jokes like that, they don’t sit well with me.”

      If she can’t cut that out, I suggest backing off the favors until she respects your feelings.


  • My boyfriend and I are having a bit of an argument about being the helper, and how you should respond when accepting to help. The Situation is: I asked my co-worker to switch a shift with me, I explicitly said that if they couldn’t they shouldn’t sweat it. We have always been very cordial and willing to help one another, if at all possible. In this particular instance the co-worker did agree to help, but made it off-handedly known [over text message] that they had to negotiate with their other job to get it done for me. I was always taught that information like that is impertinent if you know you can and agree to help; since it can be read as intentionally trying to make someone feel bad for the inconvenience. While I know that my coworker probably hadn’t intended it, I said (in front of my boyfriend) how I deemed that statement to be impolite. He disagreed. My boyfriend says that impertinent information is meaningless and can be “just context” for the person responding. After reading your piece on being the helper/helpee I feel that the statement of my coworker is a similar sentiment of “you owe me now”, isn’t it? Is this response ungracious, or, is it actually still permissible to accept but let the asker know the circumstances were difficult?

    Thanks for your response! :)

    • Hi M.T.

      Without hearing this co-worker’s tone, it’s hard to know what their intention was. I would honestly let it go UNLESS they start dropping passive-aggressive hints that they’ve been annoyed or something.

      But if it really bothers you and you’re up for being direct and open (almost my first choice, albeit not always the easiest), I would say something like:

      “Hey, thank you again for switching shifts for me last week. I really appreciate it. I wanted to follow up about one thing: I saw your text about needing to negotiate with your other job i wondered if this shift had been an inconvenience? Please don’t ever feel pressured if it doesn’t work for your schedule.”

      Grace :)

  • addendum: I did in fact thank them profusely. Even though I always say “I owe you one”. This time it felt like the statement they said was specifically asking for it. I would have felt bad not saying it because I was fully aware of the inconvenience– therefore (in my mind) making the statement impolite.

  • Grace,

    Thanks for getting back to me so quickly.
    However, I don’t mean to be challenging, but I feel I might have been unclear by over explaining my situation. I’m not particularly concerned with what the co-worker actually intended, since I really believe that it wasn’t intended to be malicious since I know this person.
    My question is whether this response by the co-worker (in and of itself, regardless of situation or platform on which the favor is asked) is impolite when accepting to help. I’m merely debating the necessity of the response with my boyfriend (in private). He deems disclosing the inconvenience when accepting to help neither here nor there; while I would deem disclosing the inconvenience as bad manners. Which one is the proper etiquette? In addition, would the tone of the co-worker make a difference in this case? Wouldn’t it be better to just plainly accept without making the inconvenience known under any circumstances?

    I didn’t deem the response so bad that it needed any sort of confrontation with my co-worker, I let it go but I am still curious to know the etiquette surrounding it. As far as I’m concerned, even with the response given, we remain on complete and honest good terms.

    Thanks again!

    M. T.

    • M.T.

      I don’t believe there’s an etiquette issue based on this co-worker merely stating the circumstances around their acceptance of the favor. Unless there was a major tone/eye roll/sigh associated with it- which I can’t tell from my perspective. If they merely stated they moved some things around to make it work, I don’t think that’s a huge deal. But if you’re feeling as if that was stated to make you feel guilty/bad, then there are indeed things to bring up and discuss with this employee based on your feelings, not theirs.


  • Hello Grace,
    Is it rude to not return a phone call when you know they are just calling to ask you to work for them? I used to work for someone part-time, until my full time position became more demanding and my father needed care for his cancer. I’m exhausted, which I told her months ago when I quit. She called after I quit to ask me to work, and I explained again my situation and said no. She just left another message, and while I know I can say no, can I just take the easy way out and not call her back? Thank you!

    • Amy

      Can you email her instead? If not, I’d call her back once, see what she wants and if she’s asking for work again, make it very clear you’re not accepting calls asking for help at work anymore. That way if she calls again, you can let it go.


  • My husband and I met someone that knows the right people to help us get our product into a space to sell. We have been trying to get into for years but with little success. We carry his persons product in our store, however the product we want him to help us with has nothing to do with his. We would need his help to convince the people of this space to sell our product. He had our product and has commented how good it is. How do I ask him this favor to help us?

    Thank you,

    • Sue,

      That’s a tough spot. If this is a friend, it may not be worth asking for that sort of favor, because it could affect the friendship. My gut instinct would be to ask him what a consulting fee would be- and offer to pay for the service you’re requesting. Because for someone to put their word on the line for your product is indeed a service. That is my suggestion, since bringing business into friendship and asking for a big favor can muddy the relationship.


  • How do you tell someone they owe you one but not mean it, mean it more as a joke, but obviously explain to them that it’s a joke.

  • Hello Grace
    My cousins and I were waiting in line at Ikea cafe the other day to buy ourselves soft cone ice creams. The line was long as usual and we waited for almost half an hour for our turns. Suddenly there’s this one old man came from the back line asking the person behind us to buy him two soft cone ice creams for his small grandchildren. He was asking very politely for the person’s favor. But that person refused with harsh replies. I immediately asked my cousin who was paying at that time to help him. So my cousin asked the cashier for two more soft cone ice creams. Instead we got bashed by the cashier. My question, is it really wrong to help someone in need? I know everyone’s waiting in line too but it’s just two soft cone ice creams. We don’t mind. What happen to that “a simple act of kindness” ?

    • Sarah

      This is a tough one. There’s rarely ever a right/wrong answer that’s clear in situations like this. And when requests/favors are presented without context, it’s hard to know what would be the “proper” etiquette. But the bottom line is that if you feel comfortable adding those cones to your order (which sound like they didn’t add much time to the interaction) it should be fine- I’m not sure why the cashier was so upset. What did they say?


  • We were classmates in 11 and 12 grade (1994) but hardly had any conversation in class( 55 students). I gave up my job in 2011 following some family issues and now in 2017 want a job but finding it impossible after a long gap of 6 years. This classmate now is the MD of a big company (0wned by his father). I am finding it difficult how to ask this favour from.

    • Hi Bobby,

      Before we dive into this, can you clarify if by “favor” you meant asking for a specific job or asking for an interview? Also, is this a job you would otherwise be qualified for?