The Art of the Ask
One thing I hugely admire about Naomi-my-internet-crush (aka Itty Biz) is the way she totally asks for things. “Huh. What type of things does she ask for?”, you ask. Well, pretty much anything she wants. It’s fantastic.
It’s not just the way she asks for what she wants since I’m also in mind-melting awe of the way she gets it … but that’s another part of the equation altogether. Actually, it’s so far out of the equation, it might not even be up on the same chalkboard.
The thing I’m thinking about right now though is how Naomi sums up her philosophy/outlook/whatever in such a completely different way than I would. For her it’s basically all about “If you don’t ask, you don’t get … so I’m asking.”
The concept — especially the way she freaking lives by it — rocks my world. Talk about applying your philosophy to real life. Love it. Want it.
Thing is, the phrasing just isn’t working for me. And here’s why.
Don’t ask = don’t get? Always? Not doing it for me. Too many minuses in it. Too many rules.
I can almost feel a subconscious block downloading into my brain. And it’s coming from a (potentially problematic) assumption that’s hiding out in the equation — of the kind that linguist Suzette Haden Elgin would call a stowaway.
“Don’t ask = don’t get” is really an If-Then equation that doesn’t necessarily always have to be true.
Don’t get me wrong. Asking is absolutely a skill worth honing. Asking people for stuff. Also asking yourself for stuff. All of it. Whether you want to take it on as a conscious life practice or you just want to land some schwag, totally worth your while master the Art of the Ask.
So I’m just going to institute a teensy edit into the phrasing. From here on out — for me, anyway — the don’t-ask-don’t-get rule will be known as: “Ask and what the heck, who knows, you might even receive.”
Actually, forget the receiving part. That’s not the point.
Way before you even want to think about the receiving, know that it’s the ask that’s important. Like I said, it’s a skill. And one that we (all of us, but especially
us chicks we ladies) don’t always work on because it is tied up in a lot of scary. There are so many what-ifs that come along with the ask. Like:
What if I get rejected and laughed out of town? What if this person I like / respect feels awkward and uncomfortable and stops liking / respecting me? What if they say yes but secretly resent me? What if I lose all the confidence I’ve ever had and go slink under a rock and never come out?
Yeah, the what-ifs make asking really hard. The thing that’s helped me the most with learning how to ask is a concept I picked up from Mikelann Valterra from the Women’s Earning Institute in Seattle.
Here it is. The ask is the win. Even better, it’s the first win.
Which means …? Well, for starters, it means you mentally agree to shift your definition of winning.
“Success means one thing only: I ask for the thing and I get the thing. If I don’t get it, I’m a big ole failure who should be pelted with tomatoes.”
“Whoah, I totally worked on my pattern and asked for the thing! Right on.”
That’s what the first win means. You asked. You pat yourself on the back for doing something which is (potentially) hard and scary. Then, if you get the thing, it’s the second win. But either way you have one thing to be proud of.
But wait, isn’t that kinda lame? Also: what should I do?
I’ll be honest here. When I met this concept for the first time, my initial reaction was an annoyed eye-roll from my inner-perfectionist.
C’mon, everyone knows you can’t trick yourself into thinking you don’t suck just because of some motivational lollipop. A win? But then I thought about it some more and realized, no, I can get used to giving myself credit for asking. Asking is a pretty big deal for me and working on feeling okay with it is a legitimate practice.
So nice reframe, Mikelann. Thanks.
Alright, so if the ask is everything (and I’m telling you it is), how are you supposed to do it? I think entire books have been written on this stuff, but here are a few examples. What to do, what not to do, and (bonus) what can happen when you don’t linguistically trip yourself up with a limiting if-then premise.
Examples of doing this asking thing *right*
You know how I met Naomi-my-internet-crush (aka Itty Biz)?
She emailed me and said, sweet, flattering things about me and my website. And my duck. I responded in kind. Then she said, “You know when your mother says ‘If you don’t ask, you don’t get'” and then came out with an ask. It was a legitimate ask and it didn’t violate my principles or my duck (horrors!) so I said, sure. And then we became friends. She asked and she got it.
You know how I migrated my enormous website to wordpress?
I asked Nathan Bowers who is a WordPress Consultant, for crying out loud, if I could ask him some questions. It felt a little like going out on a chutzpah limb but we’re Twitter pals and I decided that as long as I gave him an easy out, I could do it. And then he told me what I needed to know and then some.
And all he wanted in return was one tiny piece of advice which I was 100% happy to give and which apparently was all like, knock-yer-socks-off-ariffic. Or something. All I know is 1. he said I was a “super dynamo of helper-ocity”, and 2. don’t go bug him — hire him and give him lots of monies because he totally deserves it. Yeah, that’s right. Find your own Ask!
Anyway, these are both examples of Possible Situation #1: you ask, you get.
Examples of getting this asking thing *wrong*
You can’t really ask wrong. Well, you can, but in general the wrong way to do it is by not asking.
This awesome woman I know, Penny Hoff, decided to self-publish a book of her writing, called Fitness Rants For The Chronologically Enriched. Penny is a yoga/fitness instructor with a seriously great, very wry sense of humor and her writing is motivational, but totally not preachy (read: the rare kind that doesn’t get on my nerves).
Anyway, she self-published without asking anyone for advice because (I think that’s why, unvalidated theory here) she didn’t want to bug people.
And the book ended up being unbelievably expensive. $42.50, in fact. Per book. So even if she was willing to not make any profit at all and just break even, she was going to have be the best saleswoman in the world to move these things.
I know at least five people we know in common she could have asked about this, including me, but she didn’t and I don’t blame her for that because I do stuff like that all the time. Asking is hard. And awkward. And scary. That’s practically the whole point of this post.
$42.50 per book. Ugh. And that’s your example for Possible Situation #2: you don’t ask, you don’t get.
For the win: Examples of doing it wrong and still *winning*
The better you get at asking, the better you get at being able to receive help and support. Which is one of the hardest things there is.
Luckily, you can feel better now about the depressing example above because I’m an exceptionally nice person. Well, I have my moments. Even though she didn’t ask, I sent her some suggestions for different ways to give people more while actually making money from the book so as not to feel like she was scamming people. Because she’s not like that.
And then sent her straight to Booklocker where she was able to republish her book for 42% less. Go Booklocker. If Booklocker were a car, it would run on integrity.
This is an example of Possible Situation #3: “you don’t ask, but you still get”.
Ha! You didn’t ask, but you got it anyway.The best thing about Possible Situation #3 is that it’s like a finger in the eye to that crotchety old “you don’t ask, you don’t get” rule.
It turns it around and morphs it into something more like this: (said in old lady voice with yiddish accent): “Okay, so you didn’t ask. Is it a crime you didn’t ask? Too bad for you, bigshot, because you’re going to get what you want anyway, whether you asked for it or not, alright? Good. Good? Good.”
Okay, this post is already way longer than it was in my head. So I’m going to stop writing now. But I would love it if you would go out and ask for something. Even something really small. Start where it doesn’t feel impossible. Maybe you’ll get it. Maybe you won’t. But you’ll get better at asking.
[Bonus practice for people like me who can easily think about this kind of thing all day: Since there are probably other If/Then equations that you live by that could be messing with your game, any ideas as to what they might be?]
Terrific expression (even at ‘long’!) of why and how to overcome that mental “no!” too many are taught to expect following a request. Luckily, I was raised that “the ask IS the get” —
I used to be an actor and was thrilled to audition because I saw it as getting the job of performing. My being pleased with it was only one of the rewards as it further marketed me, and if I got the role, that was a bonus.
I think you show that Asking DOES = Getting, if you consider that the ask helps the person you’re asking get to know you better, gets them validation as a valued source, gets a conversation started for future access, and it gets you more practice at asking (which involves careful choice of request AND askee) which then gets you better at it, which gets more tangible returns on future asks! (The word ‘get’ is starting to look weird now, huh?)
There — you asked and got — but you GAVE with your ask. And THAT’S the key. Naomi asked a favor and offered support at the same time. My young auditions were performances that could solve their casting need while asking for a gig. Your study of the if/then equation gives us more to think about beyond your request for conversation on the topic… (so I’m guessing that whole yin/yang thing’s got something to it?)
Great post Havi, beautiful site/blog, swell voice — a new subber/reader says “nice to find you.” (As a fan of IttyBiz, my ask for edutainment from Naomi always gets me intros to great new peeps~!)
Hey great timing on this post, considering I found your website yesterday and asked if you could tell me the secrets of the advanced levels of Dance of Shiva. And you did! And I promoted you on Twitter, and will probably buy stuff from you. Go win-win asking. 🙂
Fortune ran a good piece recently where they asked successful people about the best advice they ever got. Michael Bloomberg, mayor of NY who made *billions* selling nothing but information, said: “first, always ask for the order, and second, when the customer says yes, stop talking”.
A big thing a lot of people have, especially non-confrontational techies, is that they think they don’t deserve to “ask for the sale” when looking for jobs or when bidding on client work. In reality pricing low and acting like you don’t deserve the work attracts exactly the wrong type of clients, and then you get self-fulfilling prophecies.
Anyway, I think it’s good to give give give, especially on the internet where you can help the whole world at zero marginal cost, because then you can ask with confidence.
P.S.: Thanks for the shoutout Havi, I may have helped you but I think you’re way ahead in the brownie points dept. 🙂
What a good point you make about asking wrong and still getting it right,Havi!
I mean, Lulu.com priced my book at $42.50 and Booklocker, at $17.95 (plus they were personable and fun) with me making the same profit!
Why?Why?Why!, I ask myelf, did I not turn to Havi in the first place (Is that asking wrong?)
I guess my mama always taught me to keep to myself, and not to BOTHER anybody which, when I think of it, was liking asking me not to exhale.
I do think that I must’ve emitted some asking vibes, though, otherwise, how do you explain answers (like your Booklocker advice) showing up in my inbox? It was like virtual divine providence~
MWAH!(Big Mama Kiss)
and while I’m at it, I was wondering if I could tag along as your duck’s assistant next time you travel to Germany…
My version is:
“You won’t know if you don’t ask”
That covers getting information, getting permission, and getting stuff. That wording also makes getting a “no” not such a bad thing – the aim is to find out “if” there’s an option. Anything beyond finding out if there’s an option/opportunity, (ie actually being on the receiving end of the option/opportunity) is a bonus. It makes being proactive in your life a lot easier.
yes yes yes! as morrissey says:
“shyness is nice and
shyness can stop you
from doing all the things in life
you want to”
thanks for encouraging the ask…which definitely greases the wheels of the offer and the give!
@Michelle – Love it. That’s such a great way to look at it.
@chas – Yay! Yeah, it’s all about the energy and the intention. Thanks for the quote … we need some more music on here!
For me, this is huge huge huge topic because I expect people to just come find me. And good feminists should know how to ask so I feel doubly stupid for not. Asking.
But you Havi did ask me if I wanted help at the writer’s retreat and i said yes and that was good asking and receiving so yeah to us both!!! Change happens!!!
Thanks for sending me the link to this post!
I tend to go back and forth between periods of being able to ask without fear, and periods where I’m afraid to ask anyone for anything. One day I’m afraid to even ask my husband for a kiss, and the next day I’ll fearlessly ask Seth Godin to write an intro to my next book. (Those are both a bit of an exaggeration, but you get the point, right?)
Other times I’ll go ahead and ask, but then worry that I’ve overstepped my bounds. I’ll worry every minute until I get a response, and then decide how I actually feel about having asked. (My email to you was one of those. It turns out that I’m glad I emailed you. Whew!)
Anyway, that’s a whole long rambly way of saying, “Great point, great post, and thanks for letting me know about it!” : )
Caroles last blog post..Before you send that email. . . .
Thank you so much for this post, Havi. Everything makes sense and the analogy: “you ask-you get; you don’t ask-you don’t get” is simple and easily understood, but there’s a prerequisite here, that one (I) is able to think straight and comprehend simple analogies. If, for example, your reader (I)is one of those people who cannot say ‘no’, yet, at the same time, cannot ask others, then there must be something wrong with this reader’s (my) logical capacity. Your post today about the art of saying ‘no’ wraps this up for me… Thanks.
Avitals last blog post..Journaling Prompt #25 – Get Inspired By The Fall And Shed YOUR Leaves
There is so much on this blog, I’m really enjoying going back through and learning so much, so easily.
The Ask pushed my buttons. A warning bell rang off in my head, and I suspect I’m avoiding something. I’m no good at asking for help, or assistance. I assume I have to do everything myself. Saying “I’m not sure I can do this alone” bugs me.
Then something else comes up. I’ve been asking for help with My Issues, when a voice in my head says that’s not what I need to deal with. By constantly working on my issues I’m avoiding getting on with my life, and doing the whole thing – the making it real thing. I came to understand that recently but this has really brought it home.
I’ve been nervous about asking over the publishing, the “let’s do this” partly because the whole Being Published terrifies me, and I’m not sure about receiving that kind of acknowledgement. There’s also a worry that I’ll just get the same advice I’ve always had. The advice I know so well and could rattle off back to anybody who cared to listen. This is the advice that doesn’t work, or isn’t really relevant. The advice that makes me think “I’m doing it wrong, but my instinct says I’m making the right decision here.”
Some people used to say I should self-publish, but it never felt right. I know from experience if a thing doesn’t feel right, don’t do it.
On not asking and getting, I’m very good. Maybe I’m talented at asking without it seeming like asking. People volunteer. It’s very strange.
Another of my If/Then issues is taking action and getting a result. There’s a great deal out there about taking endless amounts of action, even if it causes you great pain. Somebody told me if I really wanted to be published I’d cut off my right arm to do it (making writing harder, at the same time) and be prepared to really put myself through hell for it. I thought, but that’ll only make me hate writing.
My abiding life experience is that you can never know that a specific action will lead to a given result, even if you repeat it a billion times. In fact, the obvious action has never worked for me. I’ve never been successful applying for a job, for example. They don’t even look at me. So I stopped doing that. Agents came to me instead and then I found I never failed an interview. Now I don’t even have to interview for contracts.
I’m also, peculiarly in this instance, frightened of listening to my internal voice. Its effectiveness in the past is 100%, but in the case of the writing I have a habit of thinking it must be wrong. Gradually, I’m reminding myself of all the times it’s been right, and that this is what works for me.
Oh yes, and I have Big Issues with receiving.
Joely Blacks last blog post..Where do you have your best revelations?
Ah Havi, what can I say? You’re cool you are 🙂 Thank you for this little link. I shall file it away in my brain and let it filter through until something goes *bing*. There’s a big step forward in here, I just knows it.
Wormys last blog post..Ummmm, Nonsense
Yep, another shows up at the “perfect moment” link from Havi.
Amy Mommaertss last blog post..Art as Mental Therapy
Thank you so much for this. It comes at the perfect time for me.
Love this post. I have a lot of asking issues, mostly because I am afraid of a negative response, i.e of not being successful.
Totally gets in the way of building your own business, by the way.
Making “The Ask” itself a success is brilliant way of dealing with this kind of stuckness.
Thanks a lot for giving me one more piece (or peace?) of freedom.
I am totally internet-stalking your archives! They are awesome.
One big, messed-up if/then that I think most of us have is “if I mess up — whatever I perceive that to be — then I had better start suffering.” Maybe that’s just because I live in New England, which has hundreds of years of expiatory suffering under its belt, but really?
Other phrases that tip me off that I’m probably drawing connections that have more to do with my stuff than my truth: “deserve” — as in I deserve X, which I think usually means if I am good in whatever way, then I am worthy of care/comfort/feeling good — and “the kind of person who” — as in if I did the thing, then I’d be the kind of person who acts irresponsibly and ends up destitute and friendless.