Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 8, Issue 47;   November 19, 2008: Favors, Payback, and Thoughtlessness

Favors, Payback, and Thoughtlessness

by

Last updated: November 21, 2018

Someone at work who isn't particularly a friend or foe has asked you for a favor. What happens if you say no? Do you grant the favor? How do you decide what to do?
Three adult male chimpanzees during a grooming session

Three adult male chimpanzees in Kibale National Park, Uganda, during a grooming session. The human patterns of social reciprocity are not solely human. They can also be found, for example, in chimpanzees, which exhibit reciprocity with respect to grooming and food sharing. See Kristin E. Bonnie and Frans B.M. deWaal: "Primate Social Reciprocity and the Origin of Gratitude," in The Psychology of Gratitude, Robert A. Emmons, Michael E. McCullough, eds. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004. Order from Amazon.com. Photo by John Mitani, courtesy WhyFiles.org.

When someone at work asks for a favor, you might grant it on the grounds of friendship, teamwork, or affection. But at times, we receive collegial or businesslike requests for favors from people who are neither friend nor foe. Let's assume that there are no ethical questions involved; that it would be perfectly proper to say either yes or no.

To decide what to do, consider both your choices and the seeker's. What are your choices?

Grant the favor
If the effort involved is minimal, and if the negative consequences to you are minimal, granting the favor is a good choice. Otherwise, think about another option.
Deny the favor
People sometimes get unhappy when we say no, and sometimes they act out of anger or disappointment. Denying a favor can have negative consequences, but if you're sure nothing too terrible will happen, denying the favor is a possibility.
Defer the favor
You might suggest that it isn't convenient or possible right now, and suggest that the seeker contact you at a future date. At that time, you can start all over again.
Make a counteroffer
If granting, denying, and deferring aren't appealing options, perhaps you can offer something else instead. Figuring out what to offer is easier with help and advice. You can ask the seeker directly, or consult someone you trust.

And what are the seeker's choices? In part, your decision depends on an assessment of the seeker's response. We can classify the responses of seekers in four patterns.

Appreciative
If you grant the favor, the appreciative seeker expresses appreciation and returns the favor immediately, or at least, someday soon.
If you don't expect an appreciative response, and you aren't indebted yourself, exerting significant effort might be unwise.
The appreciative favor-seeker expresses
appreciation and returns the favor
immediately, or at least, someday soon
Vengeful
If you don't grant the favor, the vengeful seeker might extract a price from you, or threaten to do so.
If you expect a vengeful response to a denial, deferment, or counteroffer, it's wise to search for a low-effort way to satisfy the seeker, especially if the seeker is more powerful than you are.
Thoughtless
The thoughtless seeker accepts what you offer with little expression of appreciation.
Granting big favors to the unappreciative gets tiresome quickly. Find a low-effort way to satisfy the thoughtless, or consider denial, deferment, or a counteroffer.
Passive
The passive seeker doesn't mind much when you deny the favor.
It's tempting to simply deny the requests of the passives, but take care. Passivity can arise from powerlessness. When it does, and when it's coupled with a long memory, vengeful payback at a later date is always possible.

This framework is completely unnecessary when the seeker is a friend or ally or someone you know and like. In that circumstance, it's best to do what feels right. And sometimes, it is an ally of the seeker who is really asking the favor. In that case, applying this framework to the seeker's ally can yield a different result. Go to top Top  Next issue: It's a Wonderful Day!  Next Issue

303 Secrets of Workplace PoliticsIs every other day a tense, anxious, angry misery as you watch people around you, who couldn't even think their way through a game of Jacks, win at workplace politics and steal the credit and glory for just about everyone's best work including yours? Read 303 Secrets of Workplace Politics, filled with tips and techniques for succeeding in workplace politics. More info

Your comments are welcome

Would you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenmhXARWRMUvVyOdHlner@ChacxgDmtwOKrxnripPCoCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.

About Point Lookout

Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.

Point Lookout is a free weekly email newsletter. Browse the archive of past issues. Subscribe for free.

Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.

Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.

Related articles

More articles on Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness:

A team raises a wall of a new home sponsored by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban DevelopmentOrganizing a Barn Raising
Once you find a task that you can tackle as a "barn raising," your work is just beginning. Planning and organizing the work is in many ways the hard part.
The George Foster Peabody AwardIllusory Incentives
Although the theory of incentives at work is changing rapidly, its goal generally remains helping employers obtain more output at lower cost. Here are some neglected effects that tend to limit the chances of achieving that goal.
Sherlock Holmes and Doctor WatsonHow to Make Good Guesses: Tactics
Making good guesses probably does take talent to be among the first rank of those who make guesses. But being in the second rank is pretty good, too, and we can learn how to do that. Here are some tactics for guessing.
A black kite, a species of hawkEmbolalia and Stuff Like That: II
Continuing our exploration of embolalia — filler syllables, filler words, and filler phrases — let us examine the more complex forms. Some of them are so complex that they appear to be actual content, even when what they contain is little more than "um."
A piece of chocolate cakeEgo Depletion and Priority Setting
Setting priorities for tasks is tricky when we find the tasks unappealing, because we have limited energy for self-control. Here are some strategies for limiting these effects on priority setting.

See also Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness and Emotions at Work for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

An excavator loads spoil into rail cars in the Culebra Cut, Panama, 1904Coming October 23: Power Distance and Teams
One of the attributes of team cultures is something called power distance, which is a measure of the overall comfort people have with inequality in the distribution of power. Power distance can determine how well a team performs when executing high-risk projects. Available here and by RSS on October 23.
John Frank Stevens, who conceived the design and method of construction of the Panama CanalAnd on October 30: Power Distance and Risk
Managing or responding to project risks is much easier when team culture encourages people to report problems and question any plans they have reason to doubt. Here are five examples that show how such encouragement helps to manage risk. Available here and by RSS on October 30.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenmhXARWRMUvVyOdHlner@ChacxgDmtwOKrxnripPCoCanyon.com or (650) 787-6475, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.

Get the ebook!

Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:

Reprinting this article

Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info

Public seminars

The Race to the South Pole: Lessons in Leadership

On 14The Race to the South Pole: Lessons in Leadership December 1911, four men led by Roald Amundsen reached the South Pole. Thirty-five days later, Robert F. Scott and four others followed. Amundsen had won the race to the pole. Amundsen's party returned to base on 26 January 1912. Scott's party perished. As historical drama, why this happened is interesting enough. But to organizational leaders, business analysts, project sponsors, and project managers, the story is fascinating. We'll use the history of this event to explore lessons in leadership and its application to organizational efforts. A fascinating and refreshing look at leadership from the vantage point of history. Read more about this program.

Here's a date for this program:

The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power

Many The
Power Affect: How We Express Personal Powerpeople who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.

Follow Rick

Send email or subscribe to one of my newsletters Follow me at LinkedIn Follow me at Twitter, or share a tweet Subscribe to RSS feeds Subscribe to RSS feeds
The message of Point Lookout is unique. Help get the message out. Please donate to help keep Point Lookout available for free to everyone.
Technical Debt for Policymakers BlogMy blog, Technical Debt for Policymakers, offers resources, insights, and conversations of interest to policymakers who are concerned with managing technical debt within their organizations. Get the millstone of technical debt off the neck of your organization!
Go For It: Sometimes It's Easier If You RunBad boss, long commute, troubling ethical questions, hateful colleague? Learn what we can do when we love the work but not the job.
303 Tips for Virtual and Global TeamsLearn how to make your virtual global team sing.
101 Tips for Managing ChangeAre you managing a change effort that faces rampant cynicism, passive non-cooperation, or maybe even outright revolt?
101 Tips for Effective MeetingsLearn how to make meetings more productive — and more rare.
Exchange your "personal trade secrets" — the tips, tricks and techniques that make you an ace — with other aces, anonymously. Visit the Library of Personal Trade Secrets.
If your teams don't yet consistently achieve state-of-the-art teamwork, check out this catalog. Help is just a few clicks/taps away!
Ebooks, booklets and tip books on project management, conflict, writing email, effective meetings and more.