A friend did me a favour once and then said to me, ‘Now you owe me a favour’.
I didn’t like that.
It’s my belief that when we do someone a favour there should be no strings attached. In my opinion, favours are meant to be obligation free. A favour is given, and that’s it. If someone does me a favour they owe me nothing.
I don’t even like the ‘pay it forward’ idea. (If Jill does Joe a favour then Joe is obliged to do someone else a favour.)
I believe that favours are not meant to be tradable commodities.
When someone expects a favour in return they have not truly done the person a favour; they have provided a service and expect compensation. They should establish that obligation beforehand: ‘If I help you then you will need to do me a favour one day.’ At least it’s upfront and honest.
Despite all I have just said, there are times when we should expect something in return. Let’s say someone has been imploring you to do something for them, and you have kept refusing. You are now about to comply with their request. Ask for something in return. Something in particular.
Randolph has been pestering you to lend him money and you are now considering lending it to him:
Randolph: ‘I really need to borrow the money. I’ll pay you back, I promise!’
You: ‘Alright, I’ll lend you the money on one condition: you need to do something for me. You need to write me a letter:
(1) acknowledging the amount of money you have borrowed from me, and
(2) telling me how will you be acquiring the money to pay me back.
(3) If you fail to get the money from that source will you still pay me? If so, how? What will you live without in order to pay me back?
(4) Will you pay the money back in weekly instalments? If so, on what day of the week will that be?
(5) Do you think it will be alright to pay me a day late?
(6) How much money per week will you be giving me?
(7) List all the possible reasons why you might fail to make a payment. Be imaginative.
Randolph. ‘Really? You want all that?’
You: ‘Yep. And, if the answers are not to my satisfaction you don’t get the loan.’
You: ‘Keep a copy of the letter yourself.’
(Randolph might be miffed about this requirement but that doesn’t matter. It is your money he is borrowing, so writing a letter is the least he can do. Indeed, anyone requesting a loan should provide such a letter up front with their request.)
Kim wants you to invest in his business and you’re not interested. So far you have been saying no, but Kim is your brother and for certain reasons you are now considering agreeing to his request.
Kim: ‘Please, I need the money and it’s a safe investment.’
You. ‘Before I consider agreeing to invest I need something in return: I need to see a comprehensive business plan. Treat me like you would any professional investor. I will present your plan to my accountant and gain her advice. Okay?
’ Kim: ‘But why do you need a business plan? You can trust me, I’m your brother.’
You: ‘Just because I am your brother does not mean you don’t need to give me financial respect. It has nothing to do with trust, and everything to do with acting in a professional manner. If you can’t organise a thorough business plan . . .’
Kim: ‘Yes, alright. Fair enough.’
You: ‘And if I do choose to invest we will negotiate a proper contract.’
Kim: ‘Yeah, righto.’
Susan’s coffee shop is booming, and today she is beseeching you to help out by waiting on tables. You are not interested but you can see the dilemma she is in.
Susan: ‘With all this business I don’t want to get a reputation for poor service. Won’t you please help me?’
You: ‘Alright, but I need something in return. I know you are busy, so you have a week in which to give me a letter. In that letter I want you to list all the steps you are taking to ensure this doesn’t happen again.’
Susan: ‘I can tell you now what I’ll be doing . . .’
You: ‘I want it in writing.’
If in a week Susan produces the document, and it’s thorough, she will have taken one big step towards preventing the problem from recurring.
If she produces the document and it’s unsatisfactory, ask her to do it again. She is, after all, obliged to ‘pay’ you properly.
If Susan doesn’t produce the document, chase her up and ask for it. Remind her that she has an obligation. If she still doesn’t produce the document it means she didn’t take you seriously. The good news is: she is unlikely to ask you again, and if she does, you will feel better about refusing.
These examples might seem cold and harsh, but if you are friendly about it, not stern or officious, your friends and workmates will come to respect the way you resolve such matters with them. They won’t take you lightly but nor will they be afraid of you. They will know where they stand with you and what is expected of them.
The method helps them too, because by writing those letters they gain a greater understanding of the situation and what is required of them. Further, while they are having to deal with you respectfully and professionally, they are also learning how to respect other people. Their skills improve and they add to their own credibility.