New Zealand Law Society

Navigation menu

Asking for favours

28 April 2014

Favours come in all shapes and sizes and our responses to being asked for a favour are just as varied but we all need help at certain times and getting that help generally means we have to ask for it.

So how do we do this effectively? Here are a few golden rules to help navigate this tricky area.

Recently I was heading out of town for a much needed long weekend. I asked my friend from across the street if she would mind just popping over to feed the cat twice a day to which she responded that she would need to pass as she didn’t feel comfortable with the amount of time this would take.

I must admit I was slightly taken aback as it is a few minutes at the beginning and end of each day and I was expecting a resounding yes.

My initial reaction was one of shock and I stumbled my way through the small talk that came next and promptly left with a typical Kiwi response of “no worries”. I went home and complained to the cat who listened attentively to my dilemma. I had left it too late to get her into the cattery as I had assumed my favour request would be granted – WRONG!

So what did go wrong here? Well I made an assumption that she would be thrilled to look after my gorgeous Pixie. I mean who wouldn’t be! It never occurred to me that she might be busy, not like cats, or just plain didn’t want to do it. So my learning from this experience was to always have a plan B and never assume you will get a “yes” when asking for a favour.

Upon reflection, my friend gave a very strong and appropriate response. She could have just said “yes” and then felt resentful towards me for asking, so at least here it was very clear that our friendship was strong enough for her to be totally honest – something that I feel grateful for and gave me food for thought to write this article.

Asking for favours can be tricky and we do often just expect people to say “yes”. Often they will but then feel annoyed about it because they felt pressured to be polite and say “yes” when they really just wanted to run for the hills, so here are my top tips to make it easier:

Just ask

Many people make the mistake of starting with small talk before launching into the request. This comes across as insincere, leaving people to think that you are not really interested in them and all you want is the favour. Five minutes of talking about the kids followed with a “oh by the way could you look after the kids tonight” just isn’t a good look. Turn it around. Ask first and fill the gaps in after.

Make it easy

Recently a friend asked me to attend a meeting to give a presentation on stress. She knows that I hate driving at night so she arranged for me to be picked up and dropped off after the meeting so it made it easier for me. This made me feel valued and respected. I went to the presentation and gave it my all to make sure my friend got what she wanted for her team, so everyone was a winner. By making it as easy and stress-free as possible she made sure that she got what she wanted and that I had a good experience, too, which will certainly make me more open to doing it again next time.

Be honest

If you are asking a favour of someone be honest as to the reason why. Resist the urge to make up a huge story with exaggerated reasons for the favour as you think this will get you a more positive response. Keep it simple. Explain your situation and be direct about your needs. Try not to use guilt inducing tactics or pull on the heart strings as this can leave the other person feeling manipulated and used which is definitely never a good thing.


We all know someone who never returns the favour. They are usually quick to ask for them but are never available when you need someone to walk the dog or water the plants. This generally leads to people feeling frustrated and resentful and can have an impact on the relationship. If you are willing to ask for help then you also need to be willing to share your help in return. Obviously it isn’t always possible and there will be times when you can’t reciprocate but when you can, do.

Be grateful

My Gran always taught me to pay it back, no matter how small the gesture. It still counts, she would say, and this is something I have always remembered. So when my colleague helps me out of a jam at work I leave her a bag of her favourite lollies on her desk or a post it note with something funny on it just to acknowledge her input. Thank you cards and small gifts are always appreciated and usually followed up with the statement “ah you didn’t need to do that” but we all secretly love that you did. It doesn’t even have to cost anything. A post it note, a hug, an email – there are so many easy ways to show your appreciation.

Be prepared to accept rejection

Sometimes people will say “no” and this is fine. We cannot possibly know what is happening in their life, what commitments they have or where their comfort zone ends. To be honest, if someone asks me to feed a cat I love it because I love cats and if I have time I will but don’t ask me to feed your pet tarantula because my fear of big hairy eight legged creatures would bring about a fast refusal. Don’t take the refusal personally. Just accept it graciously.

Favours are a key part of any relationship from the office to the neighbour or even a complete stranger. Sometimes we need to ask for help. If we learn the art of asking for favours it can make all the difference to meeting our needs and keeping our relationships healthy.

I have since learnt that when I asked my neighbour to feed Pixie the cat she had just taken on some extra work and was feeling really pressured to get things done so my favour request was overwhelming for her at that time. Knowing this has enabled me to offer her support by offering to walk her dog on an evening until she gets things back on track. I get to hang out with a cool German Shepherd called Barry and she gets to balance her evening out a little easier. It’s a win-win situation!

Melanie Shaw has 20 years’ experience of working in the mental health field and has specialised in trauma therapy work in the United Kingdom where she has spent most of her career. While in New Zealand, Melanie has worked in in-patient settings as a senior clinician specialising in mental health rehabilitation and recovery with service users with high and complex needs. Melanie is now the mental health specialist at Lifeline Aotearoa where she works to support, develop and oversee mental health services with a significant focus on the National Depression Initiative and peer support services.

Last updated on the 17th March 2016