It’s an unfortunate truth that indirect questions get indirect answers.
If you hem and haw every time you try to ask for something—money, a job, a date, volunteers—you’re probably not getting the answers you want (or at least, the answers you could be getting if you came on stronger, clearer, and more confidently).
That’s because asking well is easier said than done.
A lot of us have problems asking for things flat out. And, depending on your personality, cultural background, and communication style, it could be really difficult for you to ask for things directly.
If you want to improve your approach to asking, writer and communications expert Sarah Kathleen Peck offers 21 pieces of advice in this recent Medium article: “The art of asking: or, how to ask and get what you want.”
Here are a few of our favorite lessons:
1. First, know what you want.
This is an all-too-obvious step that’s often overlooked. Often it’s not always clear to you (or others) what it is, exactly, that you’re in need of. The more clarity you have about what you want, the better. Take the time to learn, figure out, or discover exactly what you want. Once you know what you want ($1 million in funding, a coffee date with an acquaintance, a new bookshelf, a corner grocery store), it’s much easier to ask for it.
3. You have to actually ASK for what you want.
This too sounds so simple, but many people don’t actually ask for what they want. They’ll tell you a story, email you to say hello, spend hours talking in circles about their thoughts, hedge and hum about a faint aspect of their idea—and hope, amongst all the befuddlement, that somehow you’ll be able figure out what it is they want and help them solve their problem. How to avoid this? Stop pussyfooting and put it out there.
6. Use social proof by creating micro-groups and mini-masterminds.
When you email a small enough group, the presence of one initial response often prompts others to respond as well—creating the inertia of ongoing conversation rather than having to circle back and bother more people. When I email a group of five people that I highly respect and ask them to join a conversation, I try to include someone that I know is great at responding quickly. This generates an ongoing conversation.
15. Ask at the right time: understand how (and when) people make decisions.
If you’re asking for something complicated and difficult, ask while the asking is good. People grow weary of making decisions by the end of the day—we usually make better choices (or are willing to make choices at all) in the morning, or whenever else we’re fresh (see more on decision fatigue in Psychology Today). In the evening, you’re more likely to get a “no” as a response if the person you’re asking is tired and worn out from a long day.
And of course:
21. Don’t be afraid of hearing “no.”
If you don’t ask, the answer is already no.
For more advice about asking the right questions—and getting the answers you want—check out the full article.
What advice is missing from this list? Add your tips below.