Thursday, December 6, 2012

How to make Friends: Ask for Favors

A few years ago, my husband and I found ourselves trapped in a bad blizzard. We drove over some ice causing our car to careen into a ditch. Worse yet, we learned that there was a ban on towing due to the storm. After a police officer dropped us off at a gas station, our options were simple: call friends and see if someone would pick us up. We were only about 30 miles from home, in a hideous blizzard, around midnight on a Sunday. No problem. We winded up reaching a co-worker of mine, and around 1:30 am on Monday morning she came and got us.
CC BY 2.5 by Ben Britten

What I find interesting about this is that after my co-worker and her boyfriend came to our aid, our friendship became stronger. What had been stop-and-go conversations before became more relaxed and enjoyable talks. We went out to eat together and went over to their place for movie nights, something that hadn't happened before the blizzard. In short, we became closer.
It occurred to my husband and me, that what we were experiencing was a bit of social engineering. We had attended a security conference about a year before the accident. The speaker who presented the talk on social engineering (a topic that can broadly be defined as getting others to do what you want) brought up that if you ask someone a favor, he/she is more likely to become your friend. (Generally speaking smaller favors would probably be better, like asking someone for a ride home or lending you $5. Asking for too big a favor like cleaning your kitchen with someone you barely know probably wouldn't go over so well). The speaker argued that politicians use this technique all the time. Saying that if people feel invested in you, they are more likely to want you to succeed. Now, the other side of that is you should try to return the favor. No one wants a one-way relationship where he or she is the only one giving.
At first I dismissed this idea because I couldn't think of a good example in my life. But now I think the speaker may have been right. As Gretchen Rubin points out in her blog, The Happiness Project, people feel good when you offer them a way to be supportive. Asking for a favor shows that you are comfortable being indebted to them and displays intimacy.
My former co-worker and I still talk occasionally, even though we are thousands of miles away, a fact which is amazing for me, since I am awful at keeping in contact with old friends. I know I personally hate feeling indebted to others, as I think a lot of people do, but I think it might be something I need to get over. It seems silly and unnecessary, since a lot of the time I know I want to help others, but don't always know how, and it seems that other people may have similar feelings. It's an interesting paradox, one I hope you find useful.

What are some of your examples of asking a friend or acquaintance for a favor and becoming closer because of it? Do you have any examples that oppose this idea? Let me know in the comments.