How To Make Considerate Requests

If you’re asking a friend to come to your wedding, and it requires them to take a four-hour flight, you know that’s a big ask, but chances are, it’s even bigger than you imagine it. You’ll think about the flight and how much it costs, but not about how much time it’ll take them to pack, and whether they’ll have to ask their dad to drive them to the airport. That’s normal. We can’t calculate the size of our requests perfectly each time.

There is, however, a dimension we’re neglecting altogether, and it’s one we can likely do something about. What you’re asking the other person to do is an expectation you put forward to them. What standard they hope to live up to in fulfilling your request is an expectation they put on themselves. We always have some idea of the former, but we rarely even think about the latter.

In case of your friend’s big trip to your wedding, there are all the logistics of the trip, but what about the psychological pressure? “This trip will make a big dent in my finances. Am I a bad friend if I don’t go? How much will I have to spend on appropriate outfits — and what are appropriate outfits in the first place?” Again, you’ll never be able to anticipate all of this pressure, but how much of it you can foresee reveals how good of friends the two of you actually are.

Whatever self-inflicted expectations you can spot, alleviate them. “We understand it might be a long and expensive trip for some of you, so if you can’t make it, no worries. We’ll have a Zoom party for everyone overseas a month after the event.” If you know your friend always feels conscious about how she looks, don’t make her guess the dress code. Give her one. And if your brother always cleans the flat like a madman before you stop by, let him know in advance: “Please. No cleaning craze! I’ll just be there for an hour.”

Making considerate requests is work. You have to empathize with every person you’re asking for a favor and really put yourself in their shoes. That takes time. So does personalizing each wedding invite with little caveats that help ease the pressure. But it shows a level of care and understanding few people are willing to go to — and for at least the biggest asks in life, that’s a bet worth making.

Think about the scope of your asks, but also think about the scope of what people are asking of themselves. You’ll never guess everything perfectly, but if you can make it easier for folks to make your life easier, everybody wins.