March 2013

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Making an ask isn’t easy. Most asks go unanswered. Then again, most asks are unartful.

And no, it’s not to say that an artful ask is guaranteed to get you what you want.

But it will give you a much better shot.

I think about “the ask” a lot. My job requires it, whether it’s trying to bring a sponsor on board to enlisting the support of an expert that can be helpful to a client.

But the truth is, most jobs do. We all need others to help us achieve what we set out to do. Knowing how to make “the ask” is often the difference between success and failure in today’s world.

My ask has evolved and I’m sure still has a long way to go. I have had some wonderful teachers along the way, some because they did it so well and others because they did it so badly. I’m sure others have learned from me too, both what and what not to do.

I get a lot of asks. Sometimes more than a dozen in any given week, people who are hoping we can donate services to help them elevate their cause or business. And almost to a person, these people are doing something important. They are truly working to make the world better in some real and demonstrative way.

But many of them have no idea how to make the ask. Some have tried to bully me into helping, others tried shame. And some bark orders promising employment that probably will never come, without any acknowledgment that my investment of time, energy and expertise is worth something now.

But I have learned over time to choose my causes, though we still take on more than we should.¬† I know that the loudest voice is the room doesn’t always belong to the smartest person. I have come to try and accept that not taking a cause on does not make me a bad person.

And while I can’t make any claim to having perfected my own ask, I can tell you the one thing that I think all good asks have as one who receives¬† so many the secret ingredient almost no one uses when they are trying to get help from someone:

Humility.

Most people think of their cause only from their perspective.

You’d be surprised how many people don’t even acknowledge the value of or other demands on the time of the person they need. Their cause is so important to them, and they are often so rushed, they forget their manners and even basic civilities.

That is a big mistake.

Invest the time in the niceties. Remember to ask and not order. Seek to be helpful to them just as you want them to be helpful to you. Respect their efforts, and remember that every minute they give you is a gift. They owe you nothing.

At first your world will feel slower, filled up by the extra thought required to right important emails or building in time to do something small but nice for someone, like sending them an article of interest or even introducing them to someone who could helpful to their causes.

But in time, you will likely come to believe as I have that it is worth the investment of time and energy. People donate to people, be it money or time. And all relationships are about give and take.

When you want to be on the taking side of things, it’s best to think through what you can also give. At the very least, it should be your respect and gratitude. And those two things alone will go far in a world where they are in short supply.