Why Emotionally Intelligent People Embrace the Power of the Partial Favor, Backed by Science



Imagine someone you don’t know asks you to do a favor. Not a small favor, a big one.

Like the (literally) last three requests I received. One person just became a supervisor and wants me to do weekly Zoom calls to help him develop his leadership skills. Another wants me to read his manuscript and provide feedback “up to and including specific line edits.” The third wants me to work with him “on a regular and consistent basis” to help him lose weight and get in better shape.

They’re big asks, especially from people I don’t know. They want more than I can give. What I could give pales in comparison, and I know it, so I say no.

Which, science says, is a mistake.

According to research published in 2020 in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, people willing to offer less than what is requested significantly underestimate the value of what they are willing to provide to the recipient. As the researchers write, “Helpers anticipate less appreciation for partial help than help-seekers felt in receiving it.”

And, like me, are much less likely to offer partial assistance. Even though I can think of plenty of times when I asked for a lot… but was still delighted to receive a little. I may not have gotten what I wanted, but I got something.

And I was grateful, because every little bit helps.

So while I couldn’t be a leadership coach, I could have recommended Daniel Coyle’s great book Culture Code as a resource for new leaders. I could have recommended a great freelance editor I know. I could have recommended… shoot, I could have recommended all sorts of health and fitness resources. I could have done something.

But I didn’t, because I assumed partial help would be unappreciated.

The next time someone asks you for too big a favor, don’t think about what you can’t do. 

Put yourself in their shoes, and think about what you can do. A resource. A recommendation. A referral. A quick tip.

Offer what you can provide, secure in the knowledge that people in need appreciate any gesture, no matter how small.

Just like you will appreciate knowing you made a difference, however small, in someone else’s life.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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An open minded personality.. fun to be with, because of my positive vibes. God fearing, for without God I am nothing.. Moved with compassion when dealing with you, not selfish or self-centered...

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