I recently met a first-time author, who gave me a copy of his book. Shortly after, I got an email from the author’s publicist saying, “We’d appreciate it if you would post your five-star review of the book on Amazon.”

Now:

  • I don’t mind being asked to post a review of a book (though this ask was poorly done).
  • I don’t mind being asked by a publicist, as opposed to the author, if it’s done well (this was not).
  • But what frosts me is being told by a publicist what rating to assign the book without even asking whether I’d read it or even intended to read it.

Let’s break it down: What are the rules governing recommendations, referrals and references? And how many did the publicist violate?

How to ask for a favor.

Rule #3. Don’t over-specify the favor. “Would you consider writing a review on Amazon?” is a perfectly reasonable question. Asking that my review contain five stars is just insulting. It implies either that my ratings are for sale or that I needn’t read the book to determine its value, both of which rankle the would-be favor-giver.

“I’m not sure what the right next step would be, but would you mind having a look at Joseph’s resume?” That’s fine. Compare it to “I’d appreciate it if you’d take Joseph’s phone call and meet with him, just for a half hour or so.” That’s over the line.

(A tour guide on a canal in Bruges, Belgium, after a delightful ride, said to me, “May I remind you the 10-franc tip is not included in the admission price.”)

Rule #4. Treat it like a big deal. Because presumably it is, which means, you won’t often ask it unless you’ve earned some favors in the favor bank already. (See Rule #1.)

And if you have earned some favors, say so. You want to convey very clearly words to the effect of “I value our relationship. It is strengthened by our mutual collaboration and reciprocal favor-doing. I don’t ask this favor lightly and I don’t want you to treat it lightly. If you agree, you can return this favor to me or do this favor and I’ll owe you big-time. Then we will be that much closer going forward. That’s how I look at this favor. How about you?” Of course, those are not the words you’ll use. You’ll use words that are right for you. But they’d better convey that kind of intent.

A favor asked and given is an invitation to a deeper relationship. Don’t be cheap in granting favors. And don’t be promiscuous in asking for them.

Referrals, references, recommendations all follow another “R” word: reciprocity. What you give, you get. What you don’t give, you won’t get. To get, give. Pay it forward isn’t some dumb movie line. It’s how it all works.

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Charles Green is founder and CEO of Trusted Advisor Associates LLC. For more information, go to http://trustedadvisor.com