Ask and you shall receive. Uncontrovertibly true, but also hard. Why? Because as children, we’re taught that asking is wrong. Don’t be greedy. Be self-sufficient. Good girls don’t want things. Real men don’t need help. Don’t inconvenience people. We don’t take charity in this family. It’s a dog-eat-dog world. You don’t want to owe anyone anything. If you ask for things, people to think you’re weak or needy. Did you grow up with any of these beliefs? (I did.) Do you still believe these things? (I do, sometimes.)
The first problem with these beliefs is that they keep you from asking for what you want and need. That’s bad because if you don’t ask, you don’t get.
The second problem with these beliefs is that when you believe that you are unworthy or wrong or out of line in asking for something, you tend to make a sorry, ineffective mess of that request. You grovel, apologize, avoid eye contact, or don’t ask for things directly.
The root of all beliefs about asking is the fear that we’re asking for something that we don’t deserve, or that we shouldn’t have. I’m not going to tell you you deserve everything in the world because nobody does. We don’t want to go around asking old ladies to give up their subway seat for you, or asking your parents to bail you out of gambling debt for the fifth time this month. But these are not the kinds of requests we’re talking about. It’s everything else; a raise, a date, a small kindness, a military discount, an interview. If you can look someone in the eye and ask for what you need with kindness, compassion, and honestly, and without apologizing, then you don’t need to worry that your request is out of line, or wrong, or an abuse of trust or relationship. All you have to worry about is mustering up the courage to ask, and asking well.
When you ask well—honestly, directly, kindly–two things will happen. First, you’ll start trusting yourself when it comes to asking for things. You’ll trust that those things you can ask for well are totally yours to ask for. Second, people are a lot more likely to grant a direct, kind, unapologetic request than a babbling, rambling, sorry one. A win on both fronts!
This week, practice asking. Practice asking well. Ask the thrift store clerk for a discount because a button’s missing. Ask someone you admire to mentor you. Ask your spouse to make dinner tonight. Ask your friends to donate for an upcoming charity race. The first step is to practice having the courage to ask. The second step is to practice asking well:
- Look the person in the eye.
- Ask kindly
- Ask simply and directly. Do not make the person read between the lines or guess what you mean.
- Do not apologize.
- Do not give the person an out (e.g., I totally understand if you say no, but….)
- Do not give excuses, stories, or white lies to elicit sympathy. Trust me, this doesn’t work in your favor.
WRONG: (fidgeting and avoiding eye contact) Sir, excuse me, I’m sorry, I was thinking, maybe, if possible, I could, please, next week, take a personal day , because (white lie) I have doctor’s appointments and to see my 90-year old grandma, but if you can’t I totally understand, its ok.
RIGHT: (Eye contact). I would like to take a vacation day on Wednesday, please.
WRONG: I come home from a long day’s work and you’re sitting there picking your toes and reading a magazine and expect me to serve you dinner on a silver platter. You haven’t made dinner in three days. What the hell is wrong with you, you lazy turd?
RIGHT: I would like you to cook dinner tonight, please.