It’s the continuation of my “Tell Me Something Good” series, aimed at providing tips and techniques to improve your communication skills. Lesson One was to Speak with a Smile in Your Voice; a small change which yields great results… and something everyone is capable of.
Today, I’d like to focus on the most basic form of communication – that is, opening your mouth and speaking. Or in this case – Asking.
Last year, I shared with you the story of Balmshell. Included in the feature was this quote from Jennifer Lees, co-creator of the company:
“‘You only get in life what you have the courage to ask for’. Remember that quote. I was watching an Oprah Winfrey show and one audience member stood up and asked if Oprah would come and visit her small hometown. Everyone in the audience laughed because they assumed there was no way that Oprah would go. Two months later, Oprah dedicated a full show on visiting that small town. The woman was so shocked when Oprah arrived at her door with a TV crew. When asked why she obliged that audience member’s request, Oprah said ‘You only get in life what you have the courage to ask for.’ I always remembered that.”
And I’ve been living my life by that motto ever since.
Because let’s be real – most of the time, things just aren’t handed to you on a silver platter. From a young age, you earn your education. Later, you earn your pay. And I’m quite certain you’ve even earned that “World’s Greatest Mom/Dad” mug in your cupboard. But along away, did you have the courage to ask for the things you wanted/needed? Did you ask for an extension on a paper? A raise in salary? Help when you needed it? On the contrary, have you ever wished so hard for something, but didn’t receive it… only to hear in the end, “Why didn’t you just ask?”
Now most of the time we’re not asking for a spare organ, or the rights to one’s first-born. But there are several reasons why people are reluctant to pipe up:
1. Fear of Rejection. Of course! Who isn’t scared to be shot down? Rejection makes us feel invalidated and frankly, kind of dumb. Plus, sometimes summoning up the necessary courage to ask for something is perceived as not worth the effort… which actually translates to “it’s not worth the embarrassment of being told no.” But if you’re already stuck on all the reasons you’ll be denied, chances are you’ll never go on a limb for what you want and/or believe in. So wrong!
2. Fear of Making the Other Person Uncomfortable. So maybe it’s not about you after all. Maybe you’re selfless; you just want to ensure that you’re not putting anyone in an awkward position based on your request. Two words: COP OUT. I can defend this argument for two reasons: 1) People in your inner circle – such as friends and family – are in your life to help out. And if they can’t, they will say so. If it makes them uncomfortable to speak what’s on their mind, surprise! They’re not in your inner circle after all. 2) People outside your inner circle take things a lot less personally than you perceive. Again, you’re not asking for a spare liver or spleen. If the “askee” can’t be frank and honest with the “asker”, without feeling backed against a wall… that’s not really your problem, is it?
3. We Don’t Know Whom to Ask. That’s a pretty serious roadblock to asking – especially if asking the wrong person means hearing the answer “no”. But it’s so simply solved – do quick research ahead of time to see if you’ve found the person who can best address your question. If you’ve asked a non-decision maker in error, ask to be directed to the correct person without delay, before you back down to due to #1.
4. We Don’t Know How to Ask. As children, we’re taught we can get almost anything our hearts desire with one simple word – please. “Can I watch TV please?” “Can I have some more milk please?” “Can I go to Sally’s house to play… please?” But somewhere along the way, we began to ask more theatrical questions (“If I jump off the balcony wearing my Superman cape will I fly into the sky?”) and were shot down cold. So we lost our desire to ask for things… but our moms had it right all along. Ask, with a polite demeanor and an open mind. You can’t control the answer, but you can have the courage (and imagination) to ask just the same.
5. Pride. Sometimes, we all want to be seen as self-sufficient, able… perfect. And anything less will lead to loss of respect. “If we ask it is an admission of lack of something. Since we in our pride consider ourselves to be perfect, any asking will lead to declaring our vulnerability and competence,” says Sanjay Behuria, author and life coach. But I disagree. I see speaking up – asking – as having confidence. I’m confident enough to admit my shortcomings, and seek help when necessary. And, I’m confident that whether I hear the answer I’m hoping for, I’ll still find a way to achieve my ultimate goal. Never let pride stand in your way.
6. Low Self-Esteem. Perhaps you feel you’re not worthy; your needs are not important. So why bother to ask? Well, I can’t help you here. Loving one’s self comes from within – not a tutorial!
Have you ever held back asking for what you want? And, have you identified with one of the reasons noted above?
Me too. But after reading the quote from Miss Winfrey, I actually made a commitment to start asking for what I want. And you know what? It’s not as scary as it seems.
Lena’s Life: Readers will remember that I had the opportunity to try The Fresh Diet last winter. At $1346 per month, it’s not cheap. And many readers wrote in to me, assuming that the company wanted a little bit of press, and therefore sent me a month’s worth of the diet to review.
Well, they did… but what you don’t know is that the ball started rolling with me – writing to the company and asking for them to sponsor me for a month. When I told my husband that I had just contacted a company and pitched them for about $1500 worth of food and services, he laughed.
“Are you kidding?” he said. “Who’s going to give you an entire meal plan – worth over $1000 – for free?”
I wasn’t swayed. I knew the worst thing they could do was say no, or ignore my e-mail, and frankly, my life wouldn’t change a bit. But having the confidence – the courage – to face rejection by putting myself out there, made me remember Oprah’s quote all over again. I printed it out and stuck it to the whiteboard in my study.
Days later, when I received a note from the company telling me that they’d be pleased to send me The Fresh Diet for 30 days, I realized once again what sets people apart… the power to ask for what you want.
What will you ask for today?