Self Improvement 27: Ask for What You Want

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self improvement ask for what you want

To get something you need to ask for it.


Seems pretty obvious.

Often people just will not ask for what they want, and this lowers the chance of getting it considerably. There are many reasons why people do not ask for what they want:

  • Fear of rejection and ridicule
  • You don’t feel you deserve it
  • Do not want to inconvenience others
  • Hoping others will read your mind
  • Being embarrassed or shy
  • It is not customary

Well, all these reasons might seem subjectively true to you, but research shows that it is really worth asking for something.

Research by Francis Flynn and Vanessa Bohns found that people get a lot more positive responses than they expect when they ask for help. Because of this bias, we often do not ask for help, even in situations where the likelihood of getting a “yes” answer is very high. The numbers are amazing! The actual rate at which people are willing to help us is 3 times higher than we expect:

participants were asked to estimate how many they would have to approach to get one to say “yes.” On average, people estimated they would have to ask 7.2 people to get just one to agree. In fact, they needed to approach just 2.3 strangers, on average. [1]

Too much work to help

Authors of the research suggest that our error in estimating how often people will say “yes” comes from the fact that we consider the price of helping us being too high. We think that the time and resources needed to help will get us a “no” answer. In short, we think it’s too inconvenient to help us.

Afraid of the NO

The other aspect of not asking for help is tied to rejection. Researchers think that we give the “no’s” more attention and want to avoid the feeling of rejection that came with it. We often decide to not ask at all than to get a “no” as an answer.

Franklin effect

Asking for help will get you other benefits as well. When others respond to your requests, you will strengthen the relationship between you. The other person can get a feeling of accomplishment and being needed out of the task. You will avoid the regret that comes from not asking. And, of course, there’s the direct benefit of help you asked for.

The Ben Franklin effect is a proposed psychological phenomenon: that someone who has already performed a favor for certain person will more likely to do another favor for that same person rather than do a favor in response to receiving a favor from just somebody.

Research has also shown that we have a higher regard for people who have asked a personal favor from us. This is attributed to the fact that if we helped the person we tend to think they were worth it.

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But you don’t have to ask just for help. The possibilities are boundless.

  • Ask friends to join you on a trip.
  • Maybe you can use that sportscar your rich friend has.
  • Want to have sex in a different way.
  • Ask that person of for a date.
  • Ask potential customer for a sale.

Asking for what you want is a big part of self-worth and standing up for yourself. There are times when people will not ask for something they deserve because deep inside they think they are not worthy. For many, this is the barrier they need to cross. You need to truly demolish that mindset. Yes, you are worth everything, but if you don’t believe it yourself others will sense it and act accordingly.

Don’t stop asking!

Asking is also a persistence game. There are two main approaches:

  • ask from the same person until you get it (children are pretty good at it)
  • ask from many people until you get what you want (door to door sales)

If you want to go out with somebody you need to ask. And if you really want to go out with that specific somebody, you need to ask until you get them to go out with you. I know it’s hard, might be embarrassing, you feel rejected, you may think you don’t deserve to go out with them, you may hope they read your mind and ask you out, and last, but not least this may not be customary for you to ask them out.

Get over it!

If you think the result is worth it, don’t give up. You are allowed to give up if the signs are clear as a restraining order. As some salespeople put it:

if they ask security to throw you out of the building, it’s a “maybe.”

If you need something that many people can give you then you just have to ask enough people and let the probability do the rest.

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For example, if you need directions in a foreign country you will have to ask until the first person gives you what you need. On the other hand, if you need $10,000 in donations for a new charity, you will have to ask until enough people chip in.

Asking something once from many is usually easier for most people as the interactions are shorter and potential for embarrassment and rejection is smaller. Ask something from enough people, and you’ll find the ones who will give.

Ask for more

If you want something ask for a lot and then scale back. Would you want to support our cause with a 1,000 dollar payment? No? How about $50 every month? Anchoring effect will help you:

Anchoring is a cognitive bias where we rely too heavily on an initial piece of information offered (known as the “anchor”) when making decisions.

However, there is also an opposite version of this method. Ask for less. Ask for a small favor and scale up step by step.

Foot-in-the-door (FITD) technique is a compliance tactic that aims at getting a person to agree to a large request by having them agree to a modest request first.

There are a lot of tactics that help you to get people to do what you ask. Most sales books are filled with that. But the first thing you have to do is ask. Get over yourself, you are worth it, and it is pretty unlikely they will laugh at you. When you get what you want you may consider writing a thank you letter.

Now, go out there and ask for what you want.

Please comment, what have you been avoiding to ask?

Image: Give Me Weed by Ian Sane
[1] Kenrick, Douglas T., Noah J. Goldstein, and Sanford L. Braver. Six Degrees of Social Influence: Science, Application, and the Psychology of Robert Cialdini. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2012. p14-26.

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