Asking for what you want is something we all do far too rarely. We wonder why “great” things don’t fall in our laps, but never realize that the truly great things never do. You need to make others aware of your goals and ask for the opportunity. This is what I call the “Art of the Ask”.
When we tell people about our experience sailing from Argentina to England, everyone wants to know how it came about. My answer is truthful, but appears rather trite – I just asked.
During a discussion on our trip to Antarctica, Betsy and I got to talking about things we would like to do during our trip around the world. Big things that we’d love to try. Betsy immediately told me she wanted to cross an ocean on a ship. Given that we were in the middle of Drake’s Passage after a Force 12 storm this was a bit surprising.
Two days later I bumped into Alessandra, the ship’s Hotel Manager. I asked what they did after the Antarctic season ended and she started telling me about their plan to reposition the ship north for the Arctic season after the next cruise. Given Betsy’s dream I asked if we could come along. You already know the rest of the story of our 5+ wonderful weeks on the ship, but it all started by asking a simple question.
Why Don’t we Ask?
I am sure each of you can think of a time when you had the opportunity to ask for something but didn’t. What keeps us from asking for what we want? The answer is surprisingly little. In most cases it is fear and assumptions that keep us from asking a question. This is what keeps us from asking for that raise or from requesting an upgrade on a flight.
Fear of looking stupid – I believe this is the biggest obstacle, by far. We run through a litany of questions before we ever ask – What if they look at me funny? What if they get on the public address system and say ‘Hey, listen to what this crazy guy just asked me’? This fear keeps us from raising our hands in a group or from stepping up to someone we don’t know to ask if they can take our picture while on holiday. This fear is so strong in most of us that we steer clear of asking.
Fear of rejection – aka what if they say no? – Since high-school this may be one of our biggest fears as humans. We have a need to be accepted in all situations and we avoid any scenario where someone may reject us. In the movies (I cannot confirm this happens in real life) the prettiest girl is never asked to dance since the guys are sure they will be turned down.
I admit, rejection sucks. Not getting a job you want, having a girl say no when you ask her out on a date, or you hear “no, I don’t want to buy any of your damn Girl Scout cookies”. Each time you feel that rejection you curl up into a ball and convince yourself you won’t put yourself out there again. But this would be wrong. Great things can happen when you ask, but I can assure you it will not fall in your lap without an ask. Instead of focusing on the rejection, think of all the wonderful things that have happened BECAUSE of the ask. Marriage, holidays, new jobs, following a life’s dream…each of these most likely started with a question you had to ask.
Assuming you know the answer – we have all gone into a situation absolutely certain of what the other person will say. We spend our time walking through each scenario in our heads, putting words and ideas into the other person’s mouth. We put our fears into the dialog and build up a story of how they will react. Within a few minutes we have completely convinced ourselves that there is no way this person will ever agree to our request. We walk into a situation “knowing” how the other person will respond, or worse yet we simply never ask the question.
Overcoming our natural inclinations requires concerted effort each and every time you gear up to ask something new. We need to realize that asking for what we want does not need to be scary or something to avoid at all costs. It can open some amazing doors, if you can do it.
Baby Steps to Comfort
I admit this is not easy. However, nothing helps as much as practice. Start small, get comfortable asking for things and overcoming the fears that hold you back. Here are a few of baby steps that anyone can take to get you in the habit and more comfortable with the ask:
- Ask for a better table in a restaurant. While sitting by the bathrooms is convenient, it is not the best for dining ambiance.
- Next time you check into a hotel, ask if you can be upgraded. Say “Excuse me, is there a possibility of getting upgraded to the executive floor?” Don’t worry about the response, the key here is to get comfortable asking.
- Ask a stranger to take a picture of you
- Walk up to a stranger and ask to take their photo
Apply a New Attitude
Go into each new opportunity with a new attitude, focused on why you are asking and why it is important to you.
- Turn your “I wish” statements into actions – you need to know what you want
- Listen for opportunities. Since you know what it is you might be interested in doing, be always aware when an opportunity arises. Many times it will be unexpected places.
- Be flexible. Sometimes your life can head in odd directions as you follow your asks.
- Be ready for the “yes”. You really do need to be careful what you ask for because you never know if it can come true.
- Stop worrying. OK, this may sound overly simplistic, but I believe that this is something that can be overcome. Walk into each opportunity saying “what is the worst that can happen”. In fact, the worst that can typically happen is you are told “no”. Focus on what you want to accomplish and why you are going after this opportunity. Practicing the baby steps above will help you get more comfortable and stop worrying.
Asking for what you want should not be scary. Focus on the end result and don’t worry about the embarrassment. Avoid making assumptions about the other person’s response and just go for it. Try it out for yourself. You will find that it opens you up to new experiences you never would have had if you had elected not to ask the simple question.
When have you used the Art of the Ask for something? What tips can you share with others to make this a reality?