Don’t make it easy to be ignored

Most people hate saying no. Our reluctance to disappoint someone, or a fear of conflict, can lead to us doing all kinds of things that we didn’t intend to do just because we couldn’t, or wouldn’t, say no. Our fear of saying no often extends so far that we’ll avoid putting other people in a situation where they have to say no, just in case they feel as bad as we do. The result? We don’t get what we want. even worse, we never learn how to effectively ask for what we want.

There will be times when you have to ask for help, and failing to get people to agree will mean things don’t happen; things like events, because you always need speakers, or parties. At work it becomes even more pressing. Modern workplaces are built on collaboration so you might find that you can only succeed with the help of others. The good news is that almost everyone working in these collaborative environments is expecting to be asked for help, you just need to learn how to do it.

Step 1 – Know what you want. 
It is very hard to ask for something that you don’t understand or can’t articulate. Take some time to decide what it is you actually need to ask for. Is it time? Budget? Assistance?

Step 2 – Be Specific.
Often the way we ask for something is the problem. Either through inexperience or nerves we make the request so vague that we become easy to ignore. People are busy, they might not have time to dig through your long statement to try and work out if you asked for something without actually asking for it.

Step 3 – If the request is crappy, or if you know they’re busy, you need to appeal to their ego.
Everyone has an ego. Appealing to it can make a huge difference in helping someone decide if they’re going to help you or not.

Here are a few examples to show how these three steps can make a huge difference:

Example 1

Other person: “So anyone able to tell me anything about X?”
Everyone else: Thinking – I’m not sure exactly what she wants but this little thing I know probably isn’t important “…”

A more effective version
Other person: “So I’m stuck on this bug. Anyone worked on this code recently? Amy didn’t you look at it recently?”
Me: “Nope, that was this other thing but I think Adam might know more”
Adam: “I don’t think I know much more but let’s pair and work this thing out!”

Why it works: Explaining why you’re asking for something helps. Targeting an individual within a group will always be more effective than a vague full group address. If you don’t know who to target just pick someone who is responsive, diligent, and kind, they’ll help you find the right person.

Example 2

Other person: “I was wondering if you were going to be in the office tomorrow?”
Me: Thinking – umm, that sounds like it could lead to something bad… “Umm, so I’m not sure yet. Why…?”
Other person: “Ah, I was just looking for someone to do this crappy thing for me”
Me: ….

How this could have been better
Other person: “Could you do me a massive favour and be in the office to look after X tomorrow? I think you might be the only one around who can help”
Me: Feeling needed – “Oh hey, yeah sure, tell me more”

Why it works: There are three parts to the success of this one:
– You acknowledge that you’re asking for a favour. And you actually ask them for something instead of making loose statements.
– You’re up front about the crappy thing you want someone to do.
– You appeal to their desire to be needed (very effective!).

Example 3

Other person: “So I’m looking for people to talk at this event”
Me: Feeling a bit interested but also busy “Oh hey, yeah maybe one day…”

How this could have gone better
Other person: “Oh so I’m organising this event (and it’s going to be awesome because of X) and I’d love you to come and talk about Y”
Me: Feeling flattered but still busy “Oh really? Well sure, I’ll see if I can fit it in”

How this could have gone even better
Other person: “Oh so I’m organising this event (and it’s going to be awesome because of X) and I’d love you to come and give that talk you gave at Y. I really loved it.”
Me: Feeling loved beyond belief “Oh really? Well sure!”

Why this works:
You’re selling your event to the person by telling them why they should care.
You’re explaining why you’re asking this specific person.
You remove a load of work for them by telling them you want a specific, already existing, talk.

So next time you need something to happen take the time, and a deep breath, and actually ask for what you want.

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