The Biggest Mistake People Make After Receiving a Favor
This post was originally published in the Harvard Business Review.
During the fall of 2010, I helped a young family friend named Daniel with his college essays, reviewing and editing them, and providing feedback and suggestions. I was nervous and excited for him. He applied early admission to his top choice. Admission decisions were mailed on December 15 — over a month ago. And while I do know that his essays were better than JFK’s, I still don’t know whether or not Daniel got in.
Last week, I wrote a post about the three key steps to asking for a favor. There is a fourth, equally important step that happens after you ask: closing the loop.
Consider two additional scenarios. How would you feel if:
- Andrew, a good friend, asks to be put in touch with your cousin Stephanie, a senior marketing executive with a Fortune 100 firm. You make the introduction via email. Months pass. A week before heading to LA to see Stephanie, you realize Andrew never followed up to let you know how the conversation went, much less if it ever happened.
- Lindsey, an esteemed colleague, asks for an introduction to a client of yours. You happily oblige. Over the next six weeks, Lindsey sends you no less than three emails informing you of her progress with the client and ultimately thanking you for the connection (she won a new piece of business!)
In hindsight, it’s completely obvious that both Daniel and Andrew dropped the ball by failing (or simply forgetting) to follow up to let me know about their respective outcomes. And while it’s easy to brush it off and say it was just bad form, the truth is, I’ll think long and hard about doing another favor for either of them anytime soon.
The lesson: Don’t leave someone hanging after they help you out, wondering about the outcome. It’s rude, it looks bad, and it actually has the potential to create negative consequences.
The right way to close the loop is simple: no matter the outcome, no matter if the news is good or bad, be sure to follow up and share what happened. Here’s how Daniel should have closed the loop:
While I had no professional stake in the outcome of Daniel’s application process, with Andrew it was a different story entirely. I stuck my neck out to introduce him to Stephanie. The fact that he never followed up with me not only left me in the dark; it made me look bad: I didn’t know whether or not to thank Stephanie for generously sharing her time, or apologize for Andrew’s lack of follow-through. A simple reminder in Daniel’s Outlook could have prompted him to shoot me a quick update several weeks later to give me an update.
Irrespective of the outcome, Andrew could easily have kept me in the loop:
At the end of the day, people appreciate recognition and follow-through. A simple note to close the loop can mean the difference between maintaining a two-way relationship and tainting a once-good relationship. And while you certainly don’t have to go overboard and send cookies from Baking for Good like Lindsey did, it doesn’t hurt.
- Jodi, Hello and hope you’re well. I just wanted to share the good news — I’ve been admitted to Harvard and I’m thrilled. Thank you so much for your help, the hard work paid off! I’ll be sure to send you a t-shirt from Boston next fall. Best, Daniel
- Jodi, how are you? I wanted to reach out to let you know that unfortunately I didn’t get good news from Harvard last week. While I’m certainly disappointed, I do appreciate all of your help. I’m finishing up my other applications this week and I’ll let you know how things pan out in the spring. Thanks again and have a happy New Year. Daniel.
- Jodi, thanks so much for putting me in touch with Stephanie; she and I spoke last week and she was extremely helpful. I know how busy she is so I very much appreciate you going out on a limb for me. We’re going to have coffee when I get to LA next month, I’ll let you know how it goes. Talk soon, Andrew.
- Jodi, thanks again for agreeing to put me in touch with Stephanie. Unfortunately, we never managed to speak due to scheduling conflicts. At any rate, I appreciate the opportunity and I will keep you posted if we do manage to connect at some point in the future. Andrew.