If It’s a Favor To You Then Of Course, Otherwise I’d Rather Not

My obsessive focus on parsing the language of introductions previously resulted in a discussion of “the vouch,” but tbh that’s 101 level stuff. Let’s go deeper….

Introductions 201: The Favor

Another type of email frequently in my inbox is a light request or inquiry from an acquaintance to do something which is basically of unidirectional value for a friend of theirs. Usually around career advice, startup feedback or similar. If it can be fulfilled very quickly my general disposition is to try and help, especially if the FOAF is an URM. But often the ask actually has some effort associated with it – let’s say 15-30m worth (a chat, reviewing a deck and sending comments, trying to find the right person for them within an org I know, etc). I love helping, but that’s time which gets removed from Homebrew or my family, both of which are higher priorities for me. So what to do?

Often, rather than declining outright I’ll ask the requester “is this a favor for you? If so, of course I’m happy to help. But if not, I rather pass at this time.” My hope is two-fold. First, they’ll make sure the requester is going to make good use of my time and reflect well on them. Second, I’m reminding them there’s the potential of reciprocity later. That I might need help back at some point and I would expect they treat that request with an appropriate prioritization.

Now, I don’t mean this in the Godfather way, and I don’t keep a ledger of favors (which totally sounds like the title to an Iron Maiden album!). I just want everyone to remember that time is a valuable resource and we should protect our own and be thoughtful in asking for it from others. A reasonable percentage of responses back do say ‘yeah, it’s a favor for me’ (in which case I jump right on it), while the rest end up not being that important. I really should do more follow-up with those who withdraw the request to make sure they don’t feel judged or sour from the interaction (maybe I’ll just send them this post), but I think I’m directionally correct on this one, if not perfect.