“A lot of people are afraid to say what they want. That’s why they don’t get it.” -Madonna
When I was growing up, my baby brother (not so much of a baby anymore) would stand at the top of the stairs after we went to bed and scream, "I want my mommy, and I want her now!"
He would continue to scream this, crescendoing until he got his mommy.
No, I am not giving parenting advice. I do want us to take a cue from my brother and our younger selves, though.
My brother knew what he wanted. He wanted his mommy, damn it, and he wanted her now!
He wasn't afraid to ask for it, to scream out loud for it. He wasn’t worried about what other people would think, or what would happen if he didn’t get it. He just kept his eye on the prize.
More often than not? He got what he wanted.
(BTW - No brothers were harmed in the making of this blog post. I cleared this story with my brother, who is a super-awesome, tantrum-free adult.)
At the age of three, my brother was onto something. People tend to get what they ask for, even if it takes a few noes to get there, or, in my brother’s case, a few unanswered attempts.
My brother knew on some level the odds were in his favor. Don’t ask for what you want - don’t get it. Ask for what you want - maybe get it. Be persistent and keep asking for what you want - much more likely to get it.
So, he kept on asking (or screaming) until he got a “yes.”
But, for so many of us, as we mature past the age of three and grow up, we lose our ability to articulate what we want. We struggle to define what we want. Once we know what we want, the thought of speaking up and asking for what we want is debilitating. As long as we stay quiet, we reason, we can’t get a “no.” Our hopes won’t be crushed, our egos won’t be bruised, our fragile self won’t get knocked down.
We stay quiet. Days turn to weeks turn to months turn to years, until we’ve forgotten that voice and what it even was we wanted to ask for in the first place.
Owning what we want makes us vulnerable. Speaking up and asking for it? It’s a whole other level of vulnerable.
I love what Amanda Palmar, author of The Art of Asking, says in her TED talk: “I asked them. And through the very act of asking people, I'd connected with them, and when you connect with them, people want to help you. It's kind of counterintuitive for a lot of artists. They don't want to ask for things. But it's not easy. It's not easy to ask. And a lot of artists have a problem with this. Asking makes you vulnerable.”
That job, that date, that raise, that opportunity...you gotta ask. If nothing else, you have to speak up and ask yourself.
There is this old Youtube video of Steve Jobs floating around in which he says, “...most people don’t get those experiences ‘cause they never ask. I’ve never found anybody who didn’t want to help me if I asked them for help.”
You might be thinking, sure that’s easy for Steve Jobs to say, but I’m not Steve Jobs. The thing is, Steve Jobs is backed up by research.
Research shows that people consistently overestimate by 50 percent how many people they will have to ask before they get a "yes". 50 freaking percent. “Our research should encourage people to ask for help and not assume that others are disinclined to comply,” says Frank Flynn, associate professor of organizational behavior at Stanford GSB in this article for Standford Business. He goes on to say, “People are more willing to help than you think, and that can be important to know when you’re trying to get the resources you need to get a job done, when you’re trying to solicit funds, or what have you.”
You read that right, people are more willing to help you than you think. So, go on, channel that inner three-year-old today and speak up. What is it you want to ask for?
Then, you have to actually, you know, ask for it. No intense looks, giving hints, talking about it in a roundabout way hoping the other person has perfected their mind-reading skills. You have to actually ask for you what want.
Clearly, as specifically as possible, ask.
Do your best to let go of expectations for a specific result. I promise you will be no worse off than if you hadn’t asked.
I like to challenge coaching clients to get as many nos to their requests as possible. Nos mean you are putting yourself out there and asking for what you want. Nos lead to yeses. They weed out the people who can’t help you, aren’t the right fit, or don’t have the resources you need. Nos get you closer to finding your yes.
There is power in verbalizing what you want, whether it’s to yourself, someone else, or screaming it at the top of the stairs.