Just ask! (But how?)
An old type of vinyl record album (a “78”) had a flat, smooth side and a grooved side of the disc where the music was recorded. If we call the flat, useless side a complaint, the grooved, functioning side is a request. The record album is the issue and you have two choices as to which side to play.
Can’t resist noting that it’s groovy to ask for what you want.
As I wrote in my article about how [make next 9 words a hyperlink to article “Grand Canyon” on web site] great leaders are not in the habit of complaining, we also find that leadership means not being afraid to ask for what you want.
Jack Canfield, the originator of Chicken Soup for the Soul (a global phenomenon now), speaks all over the world about success principles (he wrote a book of them) and one of his favorites is “Ask, ask, ask!” Canfield teaches success-minded people to ask for what they want—and to ask specifically, confidently, and persistently.
My daughter is in her twenties now, but she still remembers my most-used phrase when she was a child who thought the default way to get something was to whine, complain, or worse. She may have seen those behaviors work elsewhere, but I would always interrupt with, “Do you have a request?”
“It’s so hot. I’m thirsty. Ma-haam, I’m hot…”
After one or more interruptions of “Do you have a request?” she learned to stop for a moment and think about what she wanted, i.e., what to ask for—and how to ask, politely. It was a trick as valuable as turning lead into gold. And, being rewarded for making requests instead of whining served to reinforce the “ask for what you want” principle. (Shall I take a little credit for her outstanding career success?)
“May I please have some water?” or “Will you please turn up the air conditioning?” Yes, dear daughter, yes!
Now, in the business world, there seems to be way too many people whose whining was never curtailed. If you are an effective leader already, you may not even realize how extraordinary you are by being someone who doesn’t traffic in complaints. Maybe someone who works under you is a chronic complainer, and your intention is to mentor them and help them grow into a leadership role. You sense they have work to do, but maybe only now can you see a great place to start. The better one gets at asking, the less time they spend complaining. Making requests is simply a communication skill and it is learnable behavior.
One note about a true request: it’s not the same as a demand. If you ask, “Will you edit this chapter and get it back to me tomorrow afternoon?” Well, first of all, I would be very appreciative that you included the key critical components of an effective request: you specified who (me) and clarified what (one particular chapter) and said by when. Obvious? Unfortunately, too often the “ask” sounds more like, “Can someone work on this right away? I have a deadline.” And they wonder why they don’t get what they need!
But also I said that a request is not a demand. Sometimes you may need to make a demand of someone who works for you. It happens, just be polite. “I need you to stop working on the newsletter now and please edit this chapter. I’ve got to have it by tomorrow morning. Thanks so much.” That was not a request. Why? Because if you make a request, the other person always has the clear option to say no, yes, or to counteroffer.
If you have a complaint at work, and you think, how can I turn this into a request? Remember that if you make a request, the person has the right to say no, yes, or to counteroffer.
If a request is made of you, the same holds true—remember that you can say no, yes, or counteroffer. Once you get into this habit, you will feel less burdened just from hearing someone’s ask. Unless of course you want to stress out and be a people-pleaser all the time. Actually, when you take the time to think about it, very often you can come up with a counteroffer when you are clear it will not work for you to say yes to a request. If your counteroffer is accepted, then both of you can be pleased. Win, win. Would you like to learn the skill of making requests, promises, and counteroffers? Read on.
Example of a true request: “I request that, during the work day, you respond to every email from me within one hour.”
This may sound like too formal a way of speaking between co-workers, friends, or family members, but the language is precise so that you can see the essence of this all-important communication skill. Once it becomes ingrained, you can improvise. A beginner at ballroom dancing is taught to count the music beats 1-2-3, 1-2-3. The master of dance moves fluidly with no attention on counting.
Once you see the results, the incredible effectiveness of making crystal clear requests, you won’t care how it “sounds.” Here are some of the beneficial outcomes:
- A huge amount of time is saved because actions correlate with priorities.
- Money is saved because people get it right the first time.
- Misunderstandings decrease dramatically, helping to build more team spirit and trust.
- Productivity skyrockets as it is more efficient to work on the right thing at the right time.
- Everyone feels more confident that other people are telling them what they’re thinking and what they really want.
- Appreciation grows as people experience others succeeding at meeting their needs.
- Problems get solved significantly faster.
- Complaints subside from a rolling wave to a trickle.
Like I said, it’s groovy to ask for what you want! Start enjoying the rewards using these 3 tips:
1) Identify a complaint that is lurking in your mind. You haven’t given voice to it because you haven’t yet turned it into a request. Who do you need to ask for help resolving the issue? Formulate your request to include your conditions of satisfaction and by when. Check it to be sure you are prepared to hear no, yes, or a counteroffer. Now, ask.
2) Think of something that you have asked someone to do, but it’s not yet done. Re-ask, and be sure your request includes your conditions of satisfaction and by when.
3) Is there something you’ve been dreaming of doing, being, or having…but you have not yet asked for this? Identify the first step needed toward this desired outcome and ask the right person for the right help. As Jack Canfield advises, “Ask, ask, ask!”
Lastly, remember this maxim you may have heard from other small business coaches: Prosperity is a function of the number of requests you make.