If you wish to know the mind of a man, listen to his words.
—Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
There are times in our lives when we have to ask for something major— a “high-stakes” ask.
The request could be for a job, a donation, or even a life partner. In those moments we might become overwhelmed with anxiety, fear of rejection, and even diminished self-worth.
It’s Not About You
Why? Because we’ve made it all about us, instead of about the person we’re asking.
If we ask the right questions and listen fully to the answers, it becomes a real, non-threatening conversation.
The secret to getting what you ask for is really listening to the person you’re asking. Everything you need to know is right in front of you.
My friend and associate Kent Stroman works tirelessly with nonprofit boards, staff, and volunteers. His Institute for Conversational Fundraising equips fundraising leaders to ask for larger, often multi-million-dollar gifts successfully. But his sage advice teaches all of us how to approach asking in every aspect of business and life.
Kent told me the story of a very major “ask” he experienced: a young man who wanted marry Kent’s youngest daughter asked for Kent’s blessing. The young man said, “I can’t see myself going through life without being married to your daughter.”
The ask was successful: Jonathan and Monica married, established their own home, and are expecting their third child in December. Major gifts, indeed. ;-)
Stroman says the key to asking for something major is to approach it as you would any important conversation by asking the right questions and then listening.
When I say “listening,” you’re probably thinking, “listening, yeah, I do that.” But not many of us truly listen as effectively as we might.
In his book, Asking About Asking, Mastering the Art of Conversational Fundraising Stroman says listening is the most important part of asking.
“If you’re going to listen strategically, you have to ask strategic questions. After preparing and asking purposeful questions, it’s time to be quiet and listen. Indeed, if we are not deliberate about listening, there is really no purpose to be served by asking,” Stroman writes.
Your Eyes, Ears, Mind, and Heart
Kent and I share the same approach on listening: to be effective, you should listen with your ears, your eyes, your mind, and your heart.
Stroman warns to beware of the temptation to manipulate a conversation into coming back around to your interests.
Kent offers these tips to aid in asking strategically and listening thoughtfully:
You need to have a sincere interest in the person. If you aren’t sincere, it shows.
Ask open-ended questions to encourage her to talk.
That person will guide you in the conversation.
Most people want to express themselves and have a lot to say.
You should be about “their needs, their vision, their timing, and their preferences.”
Finally, Kent offers this guidance, “If you want insight into someone’s head, ask data questions (facts); but if you want a glimpse into their soul, ask heart questions (feelings).”
How Well Do You Listen?
So, how well do you listen, especially when you’re asking for something important?
In his book, Kent offers a five-point scale you can use to assess how effective you are as a listener:
I do not listen to the speaker; I’m absorbed in my own thoughts.
I contribute to the discussion but give no indication of having heard others’ comments.
I send nonverbal messages, such as eye contact or a head nod, to show that I heard what was being said.
I accurately refer to the other speaker’s comments in making my own statements.
I show by my comments that I understand the meaning and feelings behind others’ comments.
If you want a truly valid assessment of yourself as a listener, ask a trusted colleague or someone at home to rate you on this scale.
Whether it feels like it or not, this kind of feedback is, in itself, a major gift.
When you find yourself looking in someone’s eyes while they talk this week, think about whether you’re hearing, or really listening.
As always, if you want to talk with me, visit my contact page. I’m all ears.
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