I recently came across an article in Entrepreneur about the politics of doing business favors.  While it’s not often covered, doing favors is a huge part of the business world.  What’s important to realize about doing favors is that it’s not about saying yes or no.  Rather, it’s about how you say yes or no.

When somebody asks you for a favor, you need to ask yourself: will this be good for my business?  If the answer is no, then don’t do the favor.  But don’t just say “no”, but instead give a detailed explanation to the person as to why you’re not doing this favor.  Also, it’s important to remember: when a superior asks for a “favor”, it is in fact a demand, so absolutely say yes.

Do me a favorWhen you plan on doing a favor for somebody, it’s important to take the request head-on and take the unspoken IOU rule of favors and address it directly.  As opposed to just saying “sure, I’ll do this favor for you”, explain why you’re going to do it, saying something along the lines of “Sure; you’ve been a good friend to me and my business, and I’m more than happy to do this for you.  I know that you’d do the same thing for me”.  An answer like this means that you’ve established how thoughtful you are about the promises you make, and that when it involves your business, you’re not going to agree to just anything.  You’ve also taken a personal request and made it professional, since you’ve made the focus on your business, the moral center around which you should be revolving.  With such an approach, if you choose to say no, it’s not about who you’re declining, but rather that you’re working to maintain your commitment to another set of people.

Such an approach to favors means that you’re not the one doing or not doing the favor, but rather your company.  You’ve made it clear that if the favor isn’t right for the company, then the favor won’t get done.  Adam Grant, a management professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, divides those who do and ask for favors into three types: the takers, the matchers and the givers.  Takers do a favor when they think that they can get a larger one in return, or when they’re trying to impress somebody powerful or influential.  Matchers believe that it’s important to evenly trade favors, so that their favors come to either reciprocate one given in the past, or earn them another favor in the future.  Givers mostly do favors without any strings attached and are willing to offer them to people that they don’t owe anything to.

Takers are difficult people to deal with, since their intentions are clear, and they’re very difficult to trust.  The best way to deal with a taker is the same way you deal with any sort of favor: acknowledge the request, say yes or no and explain why you’re saying yes or no.

The main reason to refuse a request is because it just doesn’t feel right.  Saying yes would compromise your principles or the mission of your company, or you’re just not able to provide the kind of help the requester needs.  However, there’s another reason to say no: constantly doing favors for other people without expecting anything in return means that you end up sacrificing your time, energy and resources for others.  Because of this, “givers” tend to finish last.  However, givers can also finish first.  Those who ask selflessly might be asking for trouble, but givers who act with clear conditions are more energized, as opposed to being distracted.  When people follow this setting of boundaries around the who, how and when, givers outperform matchers and takers because they’re able to build deeper and broader networks.  People feel that with givers, there’s a real sense of goodwill, which means that givers benefit from a lot more reciprocity.

Favors are opportunities to do good, build relationships and remind those in your professional universe what kind of a business you run, even when you say no.  And ultimately, the kind of business that you run is one that requires payment for such types of service.  Not necessarily money or other sorts of favors, but rather respect.