Everyone occasionally needs help. Everyone occasionally needs a favor.

Jobs believed in asking for help--so much so that he felt asking for help separates the people who do things from the people who only dream.

I've never found anybody that didn't want to help me if I asked them for help.... I called up Bill Hewlett when I was 12 years old. "Hi, I'm Steve Jobs. I'm 12 years old. I'm a student in high school. I want to build a frequency counter, and I was wondering if you have any spare parts I could have." He laughed, and he gave me the spare parts, and he gave me a job that summer at Hewlett-Packard...and I was in heaven.

I've never found anyone who said no or hung up the phone when I called. I just asked. And when people ask me, I try to be responsive, to pay that debt of gratitude back.

Most people never pick up the phone and call. Most people never ask, and that's what separates, sometimes, the people who do things from the people who just dream about them.

Even so, it's not easy to ask for help. Asking can make you feel insecure, make you feel vulnerable...and it can feel terrible if you do get turned down.

But there's one way to make it a lot less likely that you will be turned down when you ask for help: using the "but you are free" (BYAF) technique.

A review of 42 different studies conducted on the BYAF technique shows that saying some version of "but you are free" makes it twice as likely the person you ask will say yes.

Here's how it works. All you have to do is ask for a favor...and include a statement like "but you are free to say no" or "please don't feel obliged" or anything that helps them feel less put on the spot, less trapped, or that they don't really have a choice.

According to the researchers:

The studies that have varied the phrasing but consistently emphasized the target's freedom have uncovered no substantial differences in the technique's effectiveness across the variations in wording. 

The factor most consistently emerging has been the importance of verbally recognizing the target's freedom to say "no."

Keep in mind, though, that the BYAF technique is most effective in face-to-face situations. Several of the studies showed the technique is less effective when used in emails or over the phone.

The same is true for sales. BYAF is much less effective because people are naturally "more suspicious of self-interested requests and cognitively process such requests more thoughtfully."

But face-to-face...BYAF works.

Try it. The next time you need a favor, say, "It's OK if you say no" or "I know you may be too busy and will absolutely understand if you can't" or some other phrase that gives the person an out.

While you might think that just makes it easier for the person to say no...it will actually make them twice as likely to say yes.

Which gives you the opportunity to say two even more powerful words:

"Thank you."

Published on: Nov 20, 2018
Like this column? Sign up to subscribe to email alerts and you'll never miss a post.
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.