Modern Etiquette: Asking for a Favor

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.

  1. Love this! I’ve been a fan of: “It’s OK to ask, as long as it’s OK for them to say no” both in asking others or being asked for a long time.

  2. showpony says:

    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.

  3. Jordan K says:

    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!

  4. Jill says:

    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.

  5. Melissa H says:

    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?

    1. Grace Bonney says:


      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 :)


  6. steph says:

    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.

  7. Lisa says:

    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.

  8. rick wilson says:

    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.

    1. Grace Bonney says:


      I think bartering is always fine (and a great way to save both people money) if both parties are ok with it :)


  9. Lauren says:

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

  10. Steven says:

    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

    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.”

  11. melissab says:

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

  12. Wendy Dougan says:

    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.

    1. Grace Bonney says:


      yep, that’s my next biggie. it’s a doozie ;)


  13. Debra Matlock says:

    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” :)

  14. Cindy says:

    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.

    1. Grace Bonney says:


      yep, you nailed it. a little something always goes a long way :)


  15. Marie says:

    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.

  16. Helen S. says:

    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!

  17. L says:

    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.

  18. Stefanie says:

    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!

  19. Katie says:

    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!

  20. Katie says:

    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.

    1. Moriah says:

      You could reply, “If I may say no!”

  21. alyssa says:

    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!

  22. Jan says:

    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.


    1. Grace Bonney says:


      woah- that’s shocking to me. i’ll def keep that in mind.

      grace :)

  23. Rose says:

    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 :)

    1. Grace Bonney says:


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


  24. Meg says:

    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!

  25. Ashley Johnson says:

    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.

    1. Grace Bonney says:


      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 :)


  26. Koliti says:

    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”.

  27. alison says:

    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 :)

  28. Sophie says:

    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.

  29. Erin says:

    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.

  30. Melanie says:

    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?”

  31. Rebecca says:

    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.”

    1. Grace Bonney says:


      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.


  32. Susan says:

    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!

  33. Becky says:

    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.

  34. Maya says:

    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.

  35. Christina says:

    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!!

  36. Ashley Johnson says:

    I read this article by Kris Carr today (who I admire greatly) and found the information fantastic and a lot of it applies to this topic.

  37. cathy says:

    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.

    1. Grace Bonney says:

      hi cathy :)

      i actually talked about this in a post i did a few years back, but i’ll be sure to include that ;)


  38. Chrystina says:

    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.

  39. Carla says:

    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 :)

  40. 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.

  41. Maya says:

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

  42. 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.

  43. Laura says:

    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.

  44. Sarah Luthens says:

    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…

  45. Six Drops says:

    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.

  46. Margarita says:

    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

  47. LK says:

    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.

  48. Marnie says:

    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?

    1. Grace Bonney says:


      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.


  49. Tess says:

    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.

  50. Ana says:

    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!

    1. Deborah says:

      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…..


Design*Sponge reserves the right to restrict comments that do not contribute constructively to the conversation at hand, contain profanity, personal attacks, hate speech or seek to promote a personal or unrelated business. Our goal is to create a safe space where everyone (commenters, subjects of posts and moderators) feels comfortable to speak. Please treat others the way you would like to be treated and be willing to take responsibility for the impact your words may have on others. Disagreement, differences of opinion and heated discussion are welcome, but comments that do not seek to have a mature and constructive dialogue will not be published. We moderate all comments with great care and do not delete any lightly. Please note that our team (writers, moderators and guests) deserve the same right to speak and respond as you do, and your comments may be responded to or disagreed with. These guidelines help us maintain a safe space and work toward our goal of connecting with and learning from each other.