May 16, 2010
Last night I wrote about asking and guessing as behaviors rather than character types. To recap, some people have articulated a difference in how people go about requesting what they want. Some ask outright, and others guess, meaning they hint at what they'd like and hope the other side responds with a yes. Which is ruder? Which is more effective? As long as we remember these are culturally determined, shaped by family background, gender and the like, we can train and reshape either tendency to our advantage. Rather than "being an Asker" or "being a Guesser," I hope I use each as a purely strategic behavior I can adopt on a case by case basis. Speaking of strategy, here are those tips I promised.
1) Want to know if you should ask outright or subtly guess? Be empathetic.
Empathy, as I've written about before (here and here), is a big part of asking or negotiating. If you can put yourself in the other side's shoes, you have valuable info about how they might react and why they might object. You're also more likely to be able to devise a win-win solution (or the closest thing possible). What's not to like about that?
In this case of deciding whether it's best to ask for something outright or merely hint about it, if you're worried if it's a good idea to ask, ask yourself first: Would you find it terrible if someone asked you for a quarter to feed your meter? or for help revising a powerpoint before Monday's big meeting when the department's reputation is on the line? or for help moving 20 boxes of books next weekend?
If you can anticipate what approach the other side tends to use, or what approach a certain situation warrants, you're more likely to know whether to ask or guess, and how to do each effectively.
It's not foolproof, but empathy can be a useful guideline.
2) Spell things out.
If you're dealing with "a Guesser" (i.e. someone who only asks or expects to be asked if "yes" is a guarantee), sometimes it helps to find common ground from the start:
"I realize this may seem forward, but I'm sure you'll say no if you're not comfortable -- so here's my request: Could you please tickle my toes with this feather duster?"
3) Don't underestimate the ask-guess.
There are ways to ask without imposing or demanding -- ways that leave a comfortable way out, but still articulate the request. As long as you're sincere in your desire not to impose or bother, but still explicitly pronounce the question, even potential Guessers don't mind. (So I've found. And hey, if they do mind and you've been courteous, that's their problem.)
An example I just made up:
"Dear Ringo, I was wondering if I could borrow you car next Friday. I need to go to the West End to pick up a drum set I found on Craigslist and I can't carry it back on my bike. Please don't hesitate to say no. If you're not comfortable or it's inconvenient or whatever, I can always try someone else or rent a car. But if it works out, I'd be really grateful. And I'd fill up the tank before returning it. Anyway, just thought I'd ask. Thanks and have a great weekend!"
Yes this is an outright ask -- no hinting or nudging here. But by saying you can find a rental or borrow a car from someone else, you're offering an easy out. No pressure to say yes. Merely a compelling reason, and the reasonable/responsible promise to refill the tank.
4) If you really want something, ask!
You could sit around a lifetime wondering if it's appropriate to ask. That's what many women do, according to Women Don't Ask -- and that's why they don't get the raises, promotions and benefits their male peers do. So feel free to tiptoe around issues of delicacy and decorum. But when it comes to your moral, professional or financial bottom line, ASK.
5) If you do ask, answer in kind.
Related to empathy is reciprocity. One is preemptive consideration for the other party, the other comes after the fact.
If you're regularly asking other people -- and I hope you are! -- then it's only fair to be receptive to asking. You don't want to be (or be known as) that annoying hack who always seeks referrals but never lifts a finger to recommend anyone else. If you're always stealing bites off your sister's plate and borrowing her scarves, be sure she knows your plate and closet are fair game, as well. Or treat her to a mani-pedi one of these days, just because. ;)
I'm sure you can take it from here.
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