By John Millen
Ask for what you want, and be prepared to get it.–– Maya Angelou
Growing up with a hard-working single mother and few resources, I learned early on that it never hurts to ask. I’ve continued that policy, and it’s been helpful in every aspect of life and business.
On the other side of the ledger, I will go out of my way to ask other people how I can help them. I’m also a big believer in random acts of kindness. The world has never needed those more than it does today.
But I know I’m not the norm. Many of us feel uncomfortable asking for help or some kind of favor. We think we’ll be rejected. We’re concerned we are imposing. So we don’t ask.
This is sad because I bet you can think back to opportunities you missed because you failed to ask: the cool assignment that went to someone else; the client you failed to win; or even the love that passed you by.
We shouldn’t be afraid to ask because people like to help other people. It’s a fact. It can make us feel good. Research says we get a hit of dopamine, the pleasure hormone, in our brain’s reward center by helping others.
In any case, here are three phrases that will increase the likelihood you’ll get what you ask for.
1) “But you are free”
It would seem obvious that when you make a request of people, they have the right to decline. But something interesting happens when you say out loud that they, of course, can pass on your request.
Long-term research has shown that people are almost twice as likely to do what you request if you add a phrase like, “but you are free” (BYAF) not to do that favor. The specific words are not important, it’s the acknowledgment that they have freedom of choice.
There are different theories about why this phrase works, but the evidence is clear. You can learn more by reading this interview with Dr. Christopher Carpenter, a researcher and professor at Western Illinois University, who reviewed forty-two studies on the BYAF effect.
I recommend you try using this phrase, or something similar. But feel free not to try it.
When you request a favor of someone, research shows you will be significantly more successful if you provide a reason for the request. This, again, would seem obvious, but as Dr. Robert Cialdini notes in his landmark book, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, you will be substantially more successful if you use the word “because” with your request.
Citing the work of Harvard social psychologist Ellen Langer, Cialdini writes of experiments where a person would ask to cut the line to use a copy machine. The simple request using the word “because” resulted in more than 90 percent acceptance, while a request without the word was granted 60 percent of the time.
Here are the requests:
Excuse me, I have five pages. May I use the Xerox machine? (60 percent acceptance)
Excuse me, I have five pages. May I use the Xerox machine because I’m in a rush? (94 percent acceptance)
They added this question to make sure it was not the “rush” that caused compliance:
Excuse me, I have five pages. May I use the Xerox machine because I have to make some copies? (93 percent acceptance)
Cialdini says the word “because” triggers our “automatic compliance response” as human beings. Hearing the word makes us automatically want to say “yes.” This, of course, does not apply to all situations, especially higher-stakes decisions.
I recommend against saying, “Would you promote me to vice president because I have great leadership ability?”
3) “What questions do you have for me?”
Have you ever stood in front of a group when you finished your presentation and asked, “Do you have any questions?” Did you stand there for what seemed like an hour? Did you hear crickets? Did you say, uncomfortably, “Well, okay, I guess I covered everything.”
There’s something about hearing the phrase, “Do you have any questions” that seems to feel uninviting. Even people who have questions will look around at others and wonder if they’re imposing by asking a question. It’s weird.
Try this instead: “What questions do you have for me?” I started using this phrase about a year ago, and it works about 80 percent of the time, much more than the status quo approach.
I ran across this approach in a small book titled, Exactly What to Say, The Magic Words for Influence and Impact. It’s a simple read with twenty-three phrases focused mainly on successful sales but applicable in life since, as I always say, life is sales.
If you find any of those approaches interesting, I suggest you choose one and try it for thirty days because I believe you’ll see great results. But you are free to choose your own approach.
Now, what questions do you have for me? Just hit visit my contact page and we can talk.
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