Yesterday, I discovered something really interesting. All the business networking books give you the same advice: help people; they’ll feel they owe you something and will want to return the favor at some point.
I love helping people but I have two problems with this piece of advice:

  • When I help people, I like helping them because it’s the right thing to do, because I feel like it or because they need help. I don’t like helping people so they owe me a favor.
  • I think that doing what books teach you puts unnecessary pressure on other people. I want others to help me because they want to – not because they owe me.

Because of the two points above, I never did favors for others unless I really felt I wanted to. Yesterday, I was stuck calculating some stuff for a financial report I was putting together (I’m a marketer and finances are not a strength for me.) I called a client of mine who is an accountant and I asked for help. She was thrilled that I asked for help and she solved my problem in a matter of minutes. She actually thanked me for giving her the chance to help me.
I wasn’t very surprised. I believe people love doing things for other people. It makes them feel good about themselves and appreciated.
Later in the day I emailed some of our new clients (the accountant was in this group) asking for testimonials. She was happy to write a testimonial for me. If you’ve read Predictably Irrational, by Dan Ariely, you’re familiar with the concept of consistency. Just in case you don’t know what this concept is about, this is a brief explanation: people like to act consistently with previous actions. If you ask two groups of people for $5 but you ask one of them for $0.10 before asking for the $5 and they say yes, that group will be more likely to give you the $5 you’re asking for than the group that never said yes to you in the past. That’s why marketers always recommend asking prospects for a tiny commitment and then ask for more instead of asking for all they want at once.
The bottom line is this: because my accountant had agreed to help me earlier in the day, it was easier for her to say yes when I asked for a testimonial. This wasn’t an experiment and I certainly didn’t try to manipulate her. This was a coincidence but reminded me of the concept of consistency. The truth is that I might have gotten a testimonial from her anyway, but consider this: my accountant was very happy that I asked her to help me and told me that I could count on her for whatever I needed. Our relationship became much stronger because I asked for a favor.
Today I started thinking that it could just be an isolated case and I decided to ask more people to help me with different stuff. They were all very happy to hear from me and they felt great when I asked them for the favors I needed. This made me feel good because I like living in a world where people enjoy helping each other and because I discovered a great way to connect deeper with some people and re-connect with folks I hadn’t talk to in a while. I suspect that one of the reasons people like helping you so much is because when you ask for help, you show you’re vulnerable, and that’s something very few people do.
That’s another piece of advice most self-help books give that I decided to ignore: be a superhero, win every time and don’t show any weaknesses.