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November 03, 2009


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Interesting perspective. I can't believe the second guy turned down meeting in person. That's the best way to network!

You're such an extrovert, Sherry -- do you think that someone who was an introvert would have responded to the two favor requests differently?

Hmm. What an interesting question, Gretchen. I hadn't thought of that.

I do think there's a relationship "payoff" implicit in the dynamic of giving and receiving favors that is fundamental to everyone, but there probably is a difference for introverts about what is comfortable or pleasant and what feels icky.

It's also probably true that if you ask someone to do homework in order to do you a favor, it depends heavily on WHAT the homework assignment is. I'm much more likely to do extra work if the person asks me to read and respond to a short piece of writing than I am to do something like watch videos, or look at charts, or read a screenplay. Although the truth is most people whose writing I'm not paid to edit have to "earn" my willingness to do homework on their behalf, by feeding the relationship before they give me an assignment.

Interesting. I'm going to keep thinking about it.

I continue to be amazed by the regularity with which people confuse sunny friendliness with stupidity.

As in assuming I didn't remember the last time they were supposed to follow up and never did, and now they're back asking a favor of a presumed amnesiac.

I'm nice, I'm friendly, but, yes, I remember.

I always think of the great scene at the beginning of The Godfather when a neighborhood small-fry is beseeching Don Corleone for protection and the latter says "I can't remember the last time you invited me to your house for a cup of coffee, even though my wife is godmother to your only child."

Yes, coffee, again. Why is this hard?


That last comment is very helpful for me in thinking about what rewards I get from doing favors for people.

I am very, very much an introvert, so one pleasure of doing favors for people is that it can feel like a simple form of relationship maintenance. If there's someone I haven't talked to in a while who, perhaps, I've been meaning to contact, and they ask me for a small favor it's great, because it gives me a concrete task that allows me to feel like I'm keeping up my end of the relationship.

Contrariwise, a request for a favor feels much less welcome if it feels like the request creates a situation that is open ended -- either because the request itself seems like it will likely lead to future requests, or if the person asking is someone whom I don't know well, and I have to wonder what relationship will be created with that person.

This is where the introvert/extrovert split matters. On some level, having more people in my life that I feel some obligation to keep track of is not a benefit, it is a cost. So, while meeting new people is fun, I still wouldn't be happy about the "new person" aspect of a favor request from someone who isn't currently part of my life.

But there's another important possible payoff from doing a favor, beyond the interpersonal. There can be a sense of accomplishment from accomplishing the task itself. I have no shortage of interesting things to work on but, at the same time, it's always nice when someone else hands you pre-packaged problem. If somebody asked me a question in a field in which I'm comfortable such that the question was interesting and the answer was both unknown, non-obvious, and meaningful, I'd be happy just to have a good question to work on.

So I could certainly imagine getting excited about something presented in the manner of the second request that you got, but only if thinking about it would extend my knowledge of something that I was already interested in.

I feel like #2 wouldn't have botched it if his response was "I am afraid it might be really difficult to find a time to meet up. Would it work if I emailed you a little more information about it? There's this interesting video online that pretty much sums up my problem." rather than just ignoring your request to meet in person. It's still saying no, essentially, to your offer of how you were willing to help (in person) but it requests an alternative - with some explanation of why (the video is concise, accessible).

It still has a bit of "you were willing to make time to meet in person, and I'm not" and "how about we do this my way, even though I'm asking YOU a favor" but I think it's much better than just ignoring your suggestion. It opens the door for you to say "that sounds good, send the link and I'll take a look at the video when I get a chance" -- it keeps it more conversational/back and forth, and while it still might feel like homework to you, it would at that point be homework you agreed to rather than were just assigned.

That is fascinating. I'm not so sure I would say that the second guy botched it, more that there's a conflict between his style of doing things and yours. It sounds like you enjoy the social aspect of work -- you like your colleagues, and you choose your work partly to be around the people you like. This guy seems more about professional duty -- he just wants to get this problem solved, and he contacted you because you're qualified. He's evidently not as interested in being friends, but on the other hand, there's a good chance he'd do some homework for you if you asked him to.

But there definitely seem to be more people like you than there are people like him...

If any of the posters here would like the perspective of the "botched" favor asker, you should feel free to e-mail me at mattmc13 at gmail dot com. It might give you some perspective that you are not getting.

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