“Can you do me a favor?” is one of those stealth questions that sneaks up on you like a cat on the prowl.
Honestly, can you do me a favor?” translates into:
Can you invest your physical, intellectual, and emotional capital so that I may gain? Or, can you invest your energy because I’d rather not invest mine? Which raises the question: Why should I invest my energy when you are not able or willing to invest your energy?
Or, why should I care more than you do?
Sometimes agreeing to do a favor makes sense because you are getting something of fairly equal value in return. In this case, the favor is really a transaction in which both parties benefit from an investment of energy, just not in the same way. Sometimes the return is immediate (you learn a new skill, make a new connection) and sometimes the return is postponed (I take his shift today and he will cover my shift so I can go to the ball game next week).
Problems arise when one party over invests – when the amount of his physical, intellectual, or emotional capital is greater than his return on the investment.
Before you agree to complete the favor/task, ask yourself:
Why is it important to complete the task? Understand the value of the task.
What is the task’s level of priority? Why? Understand the priority level. “Help me understand how I should prioritize this given my other responsibilities.”
Whose job is it to complete this task? See job description.
What is preventing this person (time, skill, access, interest) from completing the task?
Is the task a single event or is it likely to reoccur?
If it is likely to reoccur, can he acquire the skills necessary to complete the task in the future? How?
If you don’t agree to complete the task, how will he resolve the matter?
Can anyone else, preferably a member of his team, complete the task?
How will I benefit from completing the task?
When will I benefit from completing the favor?
Is my anticipated benefit equal to or greater than the amount of energy I anticipate spending to complete the favor?
If the person whose job it is to complete the task is not able to do so or is unwilling to doing so, then this is an issue that should be addressed sooner rather than later in a neutral data based (not personality driven) framework. Publicly acknowledging an inability to perform a task may be motivation to either acquire the skill or access or move into another position more suited to their skill set. Allowing him to fail publicly by not agreeing to help may work as well – as long as you are confident you won’t receive any blow back.