The Art of Asking
Repeatedly, we have heard the maxims, “ask and you shall receive”, “close mouths don’t get fed”, or “knock and the door will be opened” said in one way or another.
I proffer the general point in the form of another adage - if you do not ask, the answer will always be no. On more than one occasion, my coworkers, friends, and family have remarked, “Ron, you ask. If I ask the answer will be no. But for some reason when you ask, you always get a ‘yes’.”
While this is not true 100% of the time, there is an art to asking for anything not already part of the humdrum of work and life. For starters, the proverbs are correct – you must ask!
In grammar school most of us learn that to tell a complete story you must use the five W’s and one H - who, what, where, why, when, and how. In order to properly and successfully make a request, you will need a complete story, which entails a comprehensive ask. Let’s briefly tackle the art of asking using the example of requesting more compensation at work.
Who? Typically, you know a lot about the person of whom you are making this request. Generally, this person is your supervisor. If you do not, then stop here and go do your research before asking. Has this person typically denied previous similar requests? Find out why.
What? You are asking for more money. Do you want a 5% increase or 25% increase? Is your request realistic? When you are determining exactly what to ask for, it is always a good idea to have a secondary and tertiary ask.
For example, you request a 5% increase, but the company has had a salary increase freeze due to recent economic woes. If you have done your research, you already know this fact. However, you ask anyway, leading up to your secondary ask (i.e., more vacation time). If the secondary request is denied, perhaps, you can ask for one-hour early departure on Fridays as your tertiary request.
Where? Would you ask for a raise in a room full of your colleagues, such as the break room? No. Dependent upon the request, you want to choose a private environment where you can talk candidly with your supervisor without external factors.
When? Is your boss a morning person or an afternoon person? Has this person had coffee yet? We all have bad days, and you should save your request for the most opportune moments. You would be amazed how simple timing can be the difference between a ‘no’ and a ‘yes’. Moreover, do you only speak to your boss when you need something? In this case, you should consider nurturing your professional relationships more before you make requests.
Why? Are you asking for the right reasons? For instance, have you taken on more responsibility and your workload has increased? Did Company ABC explicitly tell you that after six months that you would get a 5% increase in salary? If you are just asking for a 5% increase on a lark, the request will likely come across in this way and be denied. You do not want to be seen as a casual opportunist, but as an employee who is passionate about the work and deserves fair compensation for a job well-done.
How? In every field, the way you speak to people can help or hinder your requests. Are you being passive aggressive or forthright with your request? If you have been revealing your dissatisfaction with your compensation over time through subtle and veiled niceties, this will indefinitely hurt your request for anything in the long run. Acknowledging that you need more compensation, backing that desire with appropriate facts, and asking forthright pleasantly can only help.
While asking a question may take only 10 seconds, investing common sense and reason beforehand can literally change your career trajectory. Whether professional or personal, handling an “ask” with finesse is a skill well-learned.