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5 Ways to Make Sure You’re Asking Well

5 Ways to Make Sure You’re Asking Well

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    I wrote a post here last week called “Can’t-Miss Marketing: Just Ask” that got a lot of interesting responses. Sure, people said, asking is all well and good, but what does “asking well” actually mean?

    It’s an interesting, and important, question to consider. If, as I’ve seen time and time again, good things really come to those who ask, what do they do right? What traits do they have in common that make those people more likely to be successful? And what differentiates the no’s from the yes’s?

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    In my experience, it really boils down to five things. These are five tips on how to ask well, and how to set yourself up for a lot more positive responses to your questions.

    Don’t Overwhelm

    This is one of the trickiest parts of this whole prospect, and arguably the hardest part of any kind of sales as well: reminding and prodding people a bit, without putting them off by being too forward.

    There’s no cut-and-dry solution to this, unfortunately, but my rule has always been this: I initiate contact. Once. I wait a week – if I don’t hear back, I ping them again. If I don’t hear back after that one, it’s over. This keeps future options open because I haven’t harassed them until they can’t stand me anymore, but makes sure they didn’t just miss me the first time.

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    Show Mutual Benefit

    Often, we tend to focus constantly on what we bring the table: our skills, background, education, etc. What many people ignore, however, is that many people just flat out like helping people. We all love being the one who “gave them a chance when no one would,” especially when it turns into a success story. Don’t be afraid to talk about how what you’re asking for would benefit you, too.

    That’s not to say ignore the benefit to the other party – that’s definitely the most important part of all this. But don’t overlook people’s desire to help someone out, and play into their feelings of being good people by helping you out.

    Be Direct

    If you’re looking for a given job or opportunity, odds are you’re not the only one. And odds are, the person you’re contacting doesn’t have tons of time to spare. So don’t waste it – get to the point. There are right ways and wrong ways to do this, obviously, but don’t dance around an issue. A 13-paragraph email isn’t going to get read nearly as often as a two-paragraph email that says essentially the same thing. They’ll appreciate your effort and consideration of their time.

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    Be You

    In talking to various employers, they’ve all said the same thing: the unique people get noticed. Most people, frankly, do exactly the same thing, in the same format, without any personality or interest; somehow, we’ve come to think of that as “professional.”

    That’s terrible. And it doesn’t work. Funny, interesting stuff gets much more attention than the “professional” stuff. So be you, and let your personality affect what you say and do. Everyone can fill out and send a form letter – don’t even try. Know what makes you unique, both your skills and your personality, and run with that.

    Ask Not What They Can Do For You

    This is a tip I was given when I was first starting to apply for “real world” jobs: when you contact someone, don’t ask anything from them. Don’t say “please get in touch,” or “call me back,” or anything like that. Instead, ask them what you can do – who can you get in touch with? What can you do to get the ball rolling?

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    Put the onus for action on yourself – the less the other person has to do, the more likely they are to do it. And odds are, they’ll do something to help you out anyway.

    From either end of the equation – asker and askee, for lack of a better phrase – what can we do to be better at asking for what we want?

    Photo: saikofish

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    The Gentle Art of Saying No

    The Gentle Art of Saying No

    No!

    It’s a simple fact that you can never be productive if you take on too many commitments — you simply spread yourself too thin and will not be able to get anything done, at least not well or on time.

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    But requests for your time are coming in all the time — through phone, email, IM or in person. To stay productive, and minimize stress, you have to learn the Gentle Art of Saying No — an art that many people have problems with.

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    What’s so hard about saying no? Well, to start with, it can hurt, anger or disappoint the person you’re saying “no” to, and that’s not usually a fun task. Second, if you hope to work with that person in the future, you’ll want to continue to have a good relationship with that person, and saying “no” in the wrong way can jeopardize that.

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    But it doesn’t have to be difficult or hard on your relationship. Here are the Top 10 tips for learning the Gentle Art of Saying No:

    1. Value your time. Know your commitments, and how valuable your precious time is. Then, when someone asks you to dedicate some of your time to a new commitment, you’ll know that you simply cannot do it. And tell them that: “I just can’t right now … my plate is overloaded as it is.”
    2. Know your priorities. Even if you do have some extra time (which for many of us is rare), is this new commitment really the way you want to spend that time? For myself, I know that more commitments means less time with my wife and kids, who are more important to me than anything.
    3. Practice saying no. Practice makes perfect. Saying “no” as often as you can is a great way to get better at it and more comfortable with saying the word. And sometimes, repeating the word is the only way to get a message through to extremely persistent people. When they keep insisting, just keep saying no. Eventually, they’ll get the message.
    4. Don’t apologize. A common way to start out is “I’m sorry but …” as people think that it sounds more polite. While politeness is important, apologizing just makes it sound weaker. You need to be firm, and unapologetic about guarding your time.
    5. Stop being nice. Again, it’s important to be polite, but being nice by saying yes all the time only hurts you. When you make it easy for people to grab your time (or money), they will continue to do it. But if you erect a wall, they will look for easier targets. Show them that your time is well guarded by being firm and turning down as many requests (that are not on your top priority list) as possible.
    6. Say no to your boss. Sometimes we feel that we have to say yes to our boss — they’re our boss, right? And if we say “no” then we look like we can’t handle the work — at least, that’s the common reasoning. But in fact, it’s the opposite — explain to your boss that by taking on too many commitments, you are weakening your productivity and jeopardizing your existing commitments. If your boss insists that you take on the project, go over your project or task list and ask him/her to re-prioritize, explaining that there’s only so much you can take on at one time.
    7. Pre-empting. It’s often much easier to pre-empt requests than to say “no” to them after the request has been made. If you know that requests are likely to be made, perhaps in a meeting, just say to everyone as soon as you come into the meeting, “Look guys, just to let you know, my week is booked full with some urgent projects and I won’t be able to take on any new requests.”
    8. Get back to you. Instead of providing an answer then and there, it’s often better to tell the person you’ll give their request some thought and get back to them. This will allow you to give it some consideration, and check your commitments and priorities. Then, if you can’t take on the request, simply tell them: “After giving this some thought, and checking my commitments, I won’t be able to accommodate the request at this time.” At least you gave it some consideration.
    9. Maybe later. If this is an option that you’d like to keep open, instead of just shutting the door on the person, it’s often better to just say, “This sounds like an interesting opportunity, but I just don’t have the time at the moment. Perhaps you could check back with me in [give a time frame].” Next time, when they check back with you, you might have some free time on your hands.
    10. It’s not you, it’s me. This classic dating rejection can work in other situations. Don’t be insincere about it, though. Often the person or project is a good one, but it’s just not right for you, at least not at this time. Simply say so — you can compliment the idea, the project, the person, the organization … but say that it’s not the right fit, or it’s not what you’re looking for at this time. Only say this if it’s true — people can sense insincerity.

    Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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