The Power of Asking
Do you ask for what you want?
You’d be surprised how many people answer no to that question.
If your answer is no, that’s okay. Malcolm Gladwell describes in his book Outliers that asking for what you want is a learned skill, so you can learn how to ask for what you want too.
Gladwell discusses a study in which analysts followed families from different economic backgrounds around to observe how they raised their children. As it turns out, families in low income brackets asked for what they wanted less than those in middle and upper income brackets. Part of this is how their children are raised.
Analysts observed that parents in middle to upper income brackets would do things like ask their children what questions they wanted to ask when they saw the doctor, and would have them practice their questions. Children in low income families didn’t ask these questions, and their parents were less likely to do so too. Lower income families were more deferential to the doctors and less likely to ask the doctor questions.
Shonda Rhimes made note of the power of asking when she gave her recent acceptance speech for the Producer Guild Associations’s Norman Lear Award for Achievement in Television. In her speech, she demurred when she was acknowledged as a trailblazer for women and people of color in television.
Rhimes said simply,
“When I came along, [producers weren’t] saying no. They were perfectly fine saying yes. You know what the problem was? I don’t think anyone else was asking them. I think it had been a very long time since anybody asked or even tried.”
Asking isn’t revolutionary, but it’s essential to living your best life. Whether it’s asking for help when you need it or asking the doctor about something you’ve noticed, asking gets you what you need emotionally and physically.
I consider myself an independent person, and asking for help has always been challenging for me. At least it was until I was diagnosed with breast cancer. When I started chemotherapy or had to go to the doctor, I asked for help. Asking for help deepen my relationships with friends. Asking for what I wanted and needed made my life better and easier.
So how do we learn to ask for help? For me, it took cancer. But for you, I think it can be a lot easier.
Here are 4 things to remember when asking for what you want.
1. Know what you want.
This takes self awareness. What do you want and why do you want it? Know that you may be able to handle whatever the problem is on your own, but would it be easier with help? If your asking for something like a raise, what’s your game plan? Do you deserve it? How can you articulate why you deserve it?
2. Think realistically about the worst thing that could happen if you’re told “no.”
Sometimes we make the negative response we’re anticipating bigger than what’s realistically possible. What’s the worst that could happen if they say “no.” Knowing the realistic outcome will diffuse some of your worry.
3. Communicate what you want clearly.
People can’t read minds. Sometimes we think they should be able to understand our hints, but that simply isn’t the case. Communicate what you want with your words. Subtle hints don’t cut it.
4. Don’t be a jerk if you don’t get what you want.
We may be disappointed when we don’t get what we want, but that doesn’t mean that we have to respond with anything but grace. Don’t burn any bridges or you may not have the opportunity to ask again.
Asking makes us vulnerable. But this vulnerability creates a connection between us and the person we’re communicating with. This allows an opportunity to create lasting and deeper connections with those people. And in the process, your life becomes richer.
P.S. And then there’s this TED Talk by Amanda Palmer, which talks about vulnerability and connection. There’s a short bit in it that’s NSFW due to some nudity, but it’s worth a watch.