When someone offers to do you a favour, what do you think? Are you grateful, pleased to have someone willing to lend a hand? Or, are you suspicious, wondering why they would want to help and suspecting they are driven by selfish intent?
According to recent research at London Business School, your reaction is likely to be determined by the power relationship between you and the favour giver. If you are more powerful, there is a good chance that you will be suspicious. Less powerful, and you will probably be grateful. Apparently, the context seems to matter little ― work or marital relationships are similarly affected.
Another question which is likely to spring to mind is ― what will be the future consequences if you say yes? What will they want in return? Regardless of the power position, there are likely to be longer-term expectations from the donor if you say yes. Often this will vary depending on the culture from which the donor comes. Trading favours is as old as time; you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours. Some cultures are more extreme than others in respect of favours and the obligations they create. This is humorously illustrated by the following blog extract I came across…
“I look out my door in both directions before I leave the house. Once I am out of the house, I go straight to where I am headed and come straight back. No stopping to talk to neighbors. I don’t even answer the door anymore. I’m hiding — from gifts.” Amy Chavez (Returning Favours Is a Thorny Issue, The Japan Times)
So, if you are the sort of person who loves to help, offering your services to others, with no apparent cost, take care as you may not be perceived in the way you expect. That doesn’t mean you should stop offering, but take a little time to do a simple health check on your approach…
- Be honest (at least with yourself) ― what are you hoping to gain?
- What will your beneficiary think about your motives?
- Why might they feel uncomfortable?
- What steps can you take to make the offer more authentic?
And remember, as with other influence attempts, if you do not voice the concerns they may have, they will still have them. If you get it out in the open, you can then talk it through and you will rise in credibility in their eyes ― and trust will flower in your relationship.