It’s an interesting point of reflection. I’ve spent a lot of time in my personal and professional life watching other things “happen” to other people— a promotion, a cool project, recognition, a unique opportunity. What was I doing wrong? Was I not working hard enough? Did I not have the right connections? I couldn’t quite figure it out.
Then I realized something by watching my daughters – I realized that I wasn’t asking. Furthermore, in the few instances that I did ask, I realized that I wasn’t asking properly. As the old saying goes, keep doing the same thing, and you get the same results. I decided that if I wasn’t getting what I wanted, I needed to try asking directly and properly for it.
I started with my girls. As parents, have you ever thought about how you ask your kids to do things? Does it model how you want them to ask others for things? Or is it more of a “do this because I said so” ask? I realized that my girls were much more likely to do something if I gave them background on the why I was asking them to do things. “Clean up your room” became “Would you please clean up your room? We are all part of a team, and we all need to do our part. When everyone pitches in, it means we get things done faster—and we have more time to play together!” Does it work all the time? Nope. But it works often enough.
I also changed how I asked at work. Instead of waiting for an interesting project to fall in my lap, I asked specifically if I could provide assistance with my extra capacity. When I found something that I was interested in, I asked if I could get more involved. In the end, that “project” became my job and a new chapter in my career. Does asking work all the time? Nope. But it works often enough.
In both your personal and your professional life, asking can make a difference. But asking properly can be even more powerful.
Here are some steps for how to ask for what you want at home or at work:
- Step 1: Build relationships before you need them. This goes along with the networking drip list I mentioned in a previous post. Build relationships with co-workers, friends, and family. If you have a spouse or partner, invest time in that relationship. Unsure how to build relationships? Communication is the foundation, and there are tons of resources out there. One of my favorites is The 5 Languages of Love.
- Step 2: Do things for others. This step also builds relationships, but takes up the effort just a not. It goes beyond communications and moves into the next level—kind deeds. They don’t need to be excessive. It could be as simple as connecting two people together or recommending a book to a co-worker. For your family, it could be as simple as baking with your kids or letting them pick out a chapter book for you to read to them at night. But do something good for others. And don’t do it just so you can have an I.O.U. to cash in later. Do it because of the genuine goodness of doing things for others.
- Step 3: Define your wants and needs. Even if you build up a million “favors”, you don’t want to cash them in just because you can. At some point, you will run out. Plus, if people think your “asks” are frivolous, they may stop granting them. Thus, it’s important to be very intentional with your asks. Make a list of things you want and things you need. Look at the “needs” and first determine if they are really a need or just a very strong want. Then then go through both lists, prioritize them, and think about who you can ask for what.
- Step 4: THEN ASK specifically for what you want. This is where most people miss. They ask timidly. They hint around. They ask but don’t explain exactly what they want, why it’s important, and why you are asking them specifically. This is important whether you are asking kids or adults. If you’re not very specific, people will give you what they think you want, which could be very different. Telling them the background of why you’re asking for it and why you’re asking them specifically helps further clarify the ask and motivates others to help you. And just as you tell your children—don’t forget your manners! Saying the magic word goes a long way.
- Step 5: Don’t forget to follow-up with a thank you. It could be simple as saying those two words. If your ask generated cool results—like a promotion or a speaking engagement, send a thank you note telling the person how their granting of your ask made a difference. If it led to a cool experience or trip, send a post card—or even better, bring back a souvenir. If you have the chance to thank them publicly, do that—and be specific. And of course, if you have the chance to grant them an ask at some point, that is the best way to say thank you.
If you’re not getting what you want, think about how (and if) you’re asking for it. And make your first ask of yourself—ask yourself to get better at asking! Will it work all the time? Nope. But it will work often enough.