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July 22, 2010

4 more reasons we don't ask (or what a British hunting lodge taught me about taking my fear and stuffing it)

These evening I found myself at the Red Fox Room, drinking a chocolate martini.

The Red Fox Room is a dive pianobar not far from my house which looks like a cross between an English hunting lodge and an English hunting lodge. On its wood paneled walls hang cheap portraits of noble hounds. The drinks are short and mighty, like HRH. From the front of the bar, a trio pumps golden age jazz standards and the occasional showtune. The vinyl booths clash, quite brilliantly, with the rest of the room.

The story goes that a British lady used to frequent the hotel next door, and she so loved a certain hunting lodge back home that when she settled in San Diego she had it transported, panel by panel, to its present location.

For all these reasons, and for the $6.50 martinis, it's one of my favorite haunts here.

Tonight, however, a problem surfaced.

I was sitting at a booth, half-facing the TV over the bar, and from the corner of my eye I spotted something gross.

Something I really hate looking at (but others, apparently, could care less about).

Something small and organic and icky.


Thousands of bugs in a boxes being handled by scientists.

(Ewwww again. Flashback!)

I turned away, revolted. But the bright TV screen dominated the dim room, and I couldn't help but see the occasional glimpse every time I moved my head a few degrees or talked to the waitress.

I waited a bit, to see if the program would change. Nothing.

I put my hand up to my face, to shield the view.

But that got tiring.

Finally I got up and asked the bartender if she could change the channel since it was grossing me out. She did and apologized.

I sat down. And then I wondered what took me so long.

Here's why it took me so long.

Sometimes, we don't ask because we hope others will solve the problem for us or the problem will solve itself. "My boss will recognize how much I worked last quarter and let me take off the Friday before Labor Day. I've mentioned I want to go camping twice, already." "I'm not going to ask the landlady to fix the gutter problem since they usually blow away by the winter." "I don't need to ask Melissa to stop for food... they'll all get hungry soon and then we'll stop when everyone wants to eat." "They'll offer to pitch in... they'll offer to pitch in... why didn't they offer to pitch in?"

Counterargument: What if everyone else is waiting for the same thing? Break the ice, broach the subject. You might become some else's hero. The only thing you must never ask in a fake-real British hunting lodge: "Is it just me, or is it hot in here?"]

Sometimes, we don't ask because we don't know our place. What you ask for, who you ask and how you ask for it reveals a lot about how you fit into a group, a context, a situation. In some places, novices do the asking, and in others it's the initiates. Breaking the pattern requires staking a claim on a territory. And that can be scary. In that bar, I wasn't sure who controls the TV and if other people were watching the show.

Counterargument: True, knowing the rules and playing by them can be the right approach. Asking the CEO of a company you're pitching, "So, can I sit down yet?" might not be the best way to start your meeting. But if everyone played by the rules or assumed they shouldn't ask, we'd have no women's suffrage and the wage gap would keep growing. Lo and behold. So: Evaluate first. Weigh benefits and drawbacks. Then ask.

Sometimes, we don't ask because that requires recognizing -- and publicizing -- a weakness in ourselves. In my case tonight, disgust. In other cases: needing money, wanting access somewhere, wanting something someone else has. Remember the kid in kindergarten who asked for the doll? She wasn't the popular one. The popular one was the girl holding the doll. "I'm can't ask mom for help on the rent. I'm a grown-up now." "I can't invite myself along! They'll say something if they want me there." "I need a good therapist, but who can I trust to get a referral from? Whatever, I'll just look online."

Counterargument: You might find others with the same vulnerability -- either in the present or, just as valuable, in the past. (And that popular girl who was holding the doll? Guess where she ended up: at your company, earning 72% of what you do because she never learned to ask.)

And sometimes, we don't ask because we hold ourselves to a higher standard than we hold others. We're strong, we're critical, we downplay our needs. "Minding bugs? I should just get over it." "Of course I want her to call if he's going to be twenty minutes late, but I can't be the bitchy friend." "It would be such a relief if he started taking the kids to preschool, but he's home looking for work and I should suck up the detour. Scratch that." "God I wish she would stop taking my sweater without asking permission. But whatever, I should just chill out."

Counterargument: If we were asked to change the channel, remember to call when we're running late, drive the kids to school or not borrow without permission, we'd rush to accommodate. Maybe eagerly, maybe guiltily, but we'd do it -- and possibly blame ourselves, not the asker. Never assume your request is uncalled for: deduce it is. (Alternately, let the askee settle any doubts you have about the legitimacy of your request with a yes or no.)

And let me tell you: the payoff of getting what you need or want is so great, it far outweighs these anxieties. So how about this: Before you walk away from a situation that needs fixing, ask yourself:

Am I passively hoping for a solution?
Am I confused about whether or not it's ok to ask in this setting?
Am I feeling embarrassed about this need or desire?
Would I mind if someone asked me something similar?

These answers should shape your strategy -- and hopefully give you the guts to go for it!

Sheesh. Who would have thought that a post about a 2 second request to change a TV channel would turn into all this?? But what can I say: I have strong feelings about bugs. And asking. Hey, maybe that's a topic for my next blog: The Daily Bug Evader. Any interested readers out there?

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