How To Ask For a Favor—and Get a “Yes”

What goes through your head before you have to ask someone for a favor?

Ugh, they’re going to think I’m such a nuisance!”

I know they’re going to say no.”

Maybe I should just hint at what I need and see if they pick up on it.”

I already asked them once. There’s no point in asking them again.”

Those are natural feelings we all have, but science is here (once again) to prove that our fears are unfounded.

Several recent university studies demonstrate people tend to overestimate the likelihood that their request will be rejected. The research also provided some useful information on how to boost your chances of getting a “yes.”



A series of studies, conducted by researchers Francis J. Flynn and Vanessa Lake, found that most people thought they’d get better results if they only hinted about what they want or asked indirectly. But the exact opposite was true.

Participants were given questionnaires and asked to get members of the public to fill them out. The number of people who agreed to complete the questionnaire was much higher when they were asked point-blank to do so than when they were simply given a flyer with a friendly greeting.

Lake posits that asking directly, “really puts the obligation on them, and makes it very awkward for them to refuse.”



“The lesson [from the study results] is that you should pay more attention to how your request is being made than to the size of your request,” says Flynn.

Harvard Business Review suggests that crafting your ask with three key items might make the difference between getting an “I’d love to!” response and “I’d rather not” response.

The suggested first step is to prepare your target for the request. Beginning your pitch with “I have a favor to ask you” demonstrates you are aware that you are asking something of them—and not taking their help for granted.

Once they know a request is coming, be sure you share the reason why you’re asking.

Consider “Mary, can you walk my dog tomorrow? I can’t do it.” versus “Mary, can you walk my dog tomorrow? I have a potential client that wants to meet for five hours.”

People want to know the reason they’re being asked for a favor, just like donors want to what cause they’re giving to.

Finally, provide an escape. Even though you might benefit from people’s discomfort saying no, you want to enable them to do so graciously: “If you can’t help out, I understand.” Yes, they’ll probably still feel guilty, but they’ll be assured that they haven’t just destroyed the relationship by saying no.


If asking someone for a favor is hard, then asking them after they already rejected you is doubly excruciating. No one wants to seem like a nag, or someone who can’t take a hint. But recent research proves that we shouldn’t be so afraid but that a past rejection, because it might just work to our benefit.

In one Stanford University experiment, study participants had to ask strangers for two favors. First, to fill out a short survey. Whether the stranger agreed to fill out the survey or refused, the participant had to ask for a second favor: drop a letter off at a nearby post office.

The result? The people who refused to fill out the short survey were actually more likely to agree to drop off the letter at the post office. While this might sound counter-intuitive, a follow-up study says this may be due to the potential helper’s discomfort of saying no twice. No one wants to seem like a curmudgeon.

Our tendency is to assume that we’re just a big pain in the butt when we ask for a favor. But consider how good you feel when you’re able to help a friend or acquaintance. Why not give others the chance to feel that way too?