how to ask for a favor from an old friend (without sounding insincere)
An acquaintance from college recently asked me to help her with her job transition strategy. We were not close in college, and we’ve not connected in 11 years. Her LinkedIn message popped up to my surprise, and I obliged because she seemed sincere and I love to help.
As we spoke, I shared some advice with her which included how important it is to keep relationships going in the times when you don’t need something, so that in the times like this when you do, it feels more natural. This wasn’t to chastise her, but to help guide her in future interactions.
Since we can’t go back and change the past, I shared some tips for how to warm up cold relationships when one is in a time of need. I realized how frequently this comes up, so I’m sharing these with you:
Be Real and Call It Out
The fastest way to develop depth with someone is to be authentic and vulnerable. In the case of my college acquaintance, I suggested she call out the potential awkwardness of her reaching out seeking help. She could say, “I know it’s been years since we’ve connected, and I take responsibility for that. I hate that our first correspondence since then is my coming to ask for your help, but I hope you’ll allow me some leeway as I’m in a unique transition point and value your opinion.” Something along these lines, whereby you make it clear that you know it’s a bit gauche to do what you’re doing; however, by calling that out, it can be disarming and allow the other person to sympathize with you because they, too, haven’t reached out and likely have found themselves in a similar situation.
Pay Them a Sincere Compliment
One of the things that meant a lot to me in her LinkedIn note was that she made it clear that while we’d not spoken, she’d been observing my career and respected my expertise: hence, her reaching out. As most people would be, I was touched to know this, and it warmed me up to her instantly. A little (sincere) compliment goes a long way.
Be Clear About Your Ask
It’s best to be very clear about your ask to someone, and to make their role in it as friction-less as possible. If you’re looking for a good word at their company because you’re interviewing, be clear about it. But better than jumping to ask something that may seem out of line with a dormant relationship, consider first asking them for any insights they might have from working there. At most people’s core, they want to help. Make it easy by being direct, clear, and that the ask is commensurate with the quality of the relationship.
Respect Their Time
Whether it’s an email, a call or a meeting, make it clear that you respect the other person’s time by being on time, coming prepared, and having specific questions or goals to achieve in the time together.
Say Thank You
After you connect, send a thank you email or card letting them know how much you appreciate the advice or help. A written note is always best. You can use services like Prints Made Easy or Bond to make this easier.
Keep Them In-The-Loop
It’s great if you can get buy-in from others with whom you’ve reconnected to follow up with updates on your progress. Start a spreadsheet of people who are helping you, or add a reminder in your calendar to follow up with those who do. Let them know how your progress is going or what the outcome was to the situation. Failing to do this can often lead to ambiguity around what you did afterwards, and can result in the giving party thinking their help wasn’t useful or that you dropped the ball. By following up along the way, you also have the added bonus of staying top-of-mind for others, and creating a greater likelihood for them to be able to help further.
Once you have a little space to breathe, consider changing your methods a bit and investing in relationships when you don’t need something. The power of them will be exponential when the time comes that you’ll need their help.
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This article was originally published on Forbes.
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