Doing favors for other people is a healthy way to go through life. You can improve the quality of other people’s lives, and in the process of doing so you can benefit yourself as well. When you do a favor for someone else two things happen. The first is that you feel good because you were able to help another person with a problem that they were having. The second thing to happen involves the principle of reciprocity. Once you’ve done a favor for someone they’re likely to want to help you out at some point in the future. This shouldn’t be your primary reason for doing favors, but it is a nice benefit.
Getting People to Like You
Benjamin Franklin was one of the first people to discover just how powerful it can be to ask someone to do a favor for you. During the creation of the constitution, Franklin was facing bitter opposition from a rival legislator and he needed to find a way to get this man to be on his side. Instead of trying to flatter, bribe, or cajole him, he instead asked to borrow a rare book that he knew the man to be in possession of.
The legislator lent him the book, and Franklin returned it shortly afterwards with a note attached thanking him for it. The result was a quick transformation from a political enemy into an ally. The psychological in effect here is the cognitive dissonance effect. The man’s thinking went like this: I only lend items to people I like, I lent a book to Benjamin Franklin, therefore I must like him. Essentially this rival of Franklin either had to change his belief so that he accepted that he lent items to anyone, or the much easier option of changing his belief about a single person: Franklin.
This is a powerful effect of asking someone to do a favor for you. It’s counterintuitive as well. Logically it seems to make sense that by asking someone to do something for us we might actually displease them or cause them to like us less. However, as Benjamin Franklin has shown, the result is just the opposite.
Receiving Favors in Return
The reciprocity effect dictates that when we do something for someone they are likely to return the favor. This could be anything. If we remember a friend’s birthday and buy them a present, they’ll probably do the same for us. If you take someone out for dinner and pick up the tab, they may want to do the same for us sometime in the future. That effectively means that the more we give, the more we get back in return. Often it’s the case that by spontaneously giving a small gift to someone, we actually get something much larger back from them.
However, there is a caveat to the reciprocity principle. You need to do favors for people without any expectation of getting something back in return. It needs to be selfless giving without any thoughts of what you might receive in the future. This cannot be understated either. If you do something for another person with the expectation of getting something back in return, you don’t even have to say anything, most people will pick up on the vibe and feel uncomfortable about what you’ve done. This may actually hurt your relationship with the person instead of helping it, and it will almost certainly lower your odds of ever receiving a gift back from someone else.
Connecting With Powerful People
Another benefit of doing favors is the ability that it gives you to connect with powerful people. In this day and age one of the most popular ways to learn a new skill or develop yourself as a person is to find a highly successful person to serve as your mentor. However, finding an ideal person to be your mentor can be a difficult. Successful people tend to be very busy, and most of the time they’re not going to be willing to take on the time consuming task of mentoring someone who they don’t know. But what if they did know you, and furthermore, what if they felt indebted to you?
Doing favors for successful, powerful people is one of the quickest ways to build a relationship where none existed. It’s not nearly as difficult as you might imagine either. Simply place yourself in situations where you’re constantly surrounded by people who you’d like to emulate, and ask what projects they’re working on and what they have to do on their to do list. Then ask them if there is anything that you can help them to accomplish. You may be surprised by how many of them take you up on the offer. Do a good job, do the work without any expectation of getting anything in return, and you may find yourself quickly developing a mentor, mentee relationship.
On top of just developing a relationship with a mentor, you can also use this strategy to further your career at work. You can seek out powerful people in your company and find out what help you can offer them in your free time. This can be an easy way to develop a relationship with people high up in your company, and come to be known as someone who can be counted on. This is an especially useful strategy if you work in a large corporation where it may be hard to get noticed otherwise.
Bringing it Together
Favors are a powerful way to help other people, and also to advance your own position in life. When you help someone else not only does it improve their life, it can also make you feel good about yourself. If there is someone at work who you can’t seem to find a way to see eye to eye with, asking them for a favor could also be a way to bridge a gap between the two of you.
Finally, favors can be a way to get into the good graces of powerful people, whether they work at your company or they’re people you’d like to mentor you. The one thing you have to always keep in mind is that all favors should be done with the expectation of getting nothing back in return. If you follow this one simple rule, you’ll be continually surprised by just how willing people are to help you in return.