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Effective Communication Skills: The Ask

May 15, 2012

My husband is the quintessential salesman. He’s worked in sales for many years and he’s really good at it. So I figured he’d be the perfect person to turn to for advice about asking for what you want in business — and getting it. After all, I frequently find myself in the position of asking people for the opportunity to do a presentation, selling The Language Lab’s services, seeking an endorsement or an introduction to a potential new client.

The other day over breakfast I brought up the subject of “the ask.” And I have to say, I was a little taken aback by one of the things my husband said:

“I’ve lived with rejection my whole business life.”

‘Uh oh,’ I thought, if someone who is successful at asking high-powered executives to use his services feels he is constantly being rejected, what does that say about those who wither at the first hint of being rebuffed or ignored?

Ultimately what it says is this: it is human nature to be afraid of rejection. But the fact remains; you can’t let fear stop you from asking for what you need. When you are rejected, you simply have to try again, and again, and again.
My young grandson is a good reminder of the value of the “repeat ask.” In fact, he has absolutely no shame when it comes to endlessly asking for a toy he wants. I admit, he eventually wears me down with all his asking, and gets what he wants.

I’m not suggesting that you act like a five-year-old when it comes to a business ask. In business communication you have to be a little more subtle than “It would be so awesome to have a new Skylander.” But the persistence kids have when it comes to asking for what they want is a good lesson about one of the secrets to the successful ask.

The Language Lab’s Top Secrets to Successful Asking

-Persistence vs. pride: You may feel embarrassed to ask for something more than once, but asking until you get a substantial response is one of the keys to successful asking. Find fresh ways to ask for what you want if the approach you are using doesn’t seem to be working.

-Clarity vs. confusion: Know what you are asking for, and carefully choose the words you use in your ask. If you are vague or you babble, you will immediately lose the attention of the “askee.”

-Certainty vs. uncertainty: Confidence is half the battle, even if inside you feel you are quaking like the Cowardly Lion. You have to “act as if” you are confident, because uncertainty does not inspire confidence in others.

-Cleverness vs. complacency: Don’t assume your first idea of how to ask for something is the best method. Observe how other people ask for what they want, and incorporate new ways of asking into your repertoire. If your first effort to contact someone is thwarted by a “gatekeeper,” whether it is a secretary or a convoluted voice mail system, keep trying until you get to someone who will help you reach your goal.

-Their needs vs. your needs: You have to take into consideration the other person’s needs. How is what you want a potential benefit to them? Put yourself in their shoes and ask yourself how you would want to be approached if you were the other person.

Of course all the brilliant asking strategies in the world are not a guarantee that you will get what you want. But a courteous or creative ask today may get a positive response many months down the line. Part of asking people for what you want, whether it’s for information, for a job, or for a connection to someone they know, is all about relationship building. And that is rarely something that happens over night.

Above all remember that old saying: “If you don’t ask, you don’t get!”

Are you nervous about making a business ask? Contact The Language Lab at to find out more strategies for successful asking.


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