Master the Ask 

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Sara Blanchard | Guest Contributor | @sarayoko

As Malcolm Gladwell made well known via his book, Outliers, the most successful among us rarely accomplish big things in a silo. Relationships--and therefore communication--are important to our success. 

Yet it can be intimidating to ask someone to support you, to give you a chance, to hire you. If you’re about to make a query, you want to make sure you do it right.

What are the key components of a successful ask? A lot of it has to do with your mindset, and here are the top three things to pay attention to:  

1. Avoid the status trap.

You may catch yourself playing mind games when there is something you really want to achieve. The biggest one to avoid during an ask is the status trap. This trap makes you believe the person you ask is above you (because they have something you want), and positions you as an underling, scrambling to get a favor. The problem is, when you think you’re inferior, your real, powerful self is in hiding. And if you were going to make a decision about who you’d like to say yes to, wouldn’t you choose a fabulous person over an inferior person?

Contrary to popular belief, making an ask is not about scrambling to sell yourself. It’s actually about beginning a relationship with the person you are speaking/writing to. Whether that person is a business owner, a mentor, or a huge celebrity, consider just for a moment that despite their persona, they are Real Human Beings. Start your dialogue with this in mind: Real Human Beings have needs, wants, desires. We’d all love a little encouragement, pick me up, praise, or someone to help make our lives a little easier, right?

Think about how you can drop a quick line of praise or admiration into the opening line. Be mindful of how what you want supports the vision or business or personality of the other person. Pretend in your tone you are communicating with your close friend and of course, be respectful and polite!

2. Do not hedge your bets.

One of the easiest ways to shoot yourself in the foot is to give the other person an excuse not to say yes. It’s the extra line in the email that says “I understand if you’re too busy to address this right now” or “I’m not sure if this is possible, but . . . .” The underlying thinking is that maybe you’re not good enough to do this, that you’re half-hearted about what you’re proposing, or that perhaps your idea isn’t the best solution.

Hedging your bets reveals your lack of confidence. To get over this, give yourself enough physical and mental space to think through your proposal before reaching out. Are you super excited and committed to making your idea happen in some way? Do you have the capacity to handle what you’ve asked for? Are you ready to clearly communicate what you want and take ownership of it, to make it easy for the other person to say yes?  

3. Keep the ask simple.

Rarely does anybody want to wade through pages of explanation to get to the point of the message. Burying your ask in mountains of justification makes it seem like you don’t actually understand the core of what you want or need; instead, you come across like someone who needs to prove how much they know. That needy energy is off-putting.

What’s the simplest, most direct way you can phrase your ask? Can you keep the tone lighthearted? Many successful marketers are now using the 9-word email to get to the core of what they want their clients to do; you don’t have to go that brief for an ask, but several concise, thoughtful paragraphs will usually do.

Remember the person you are reaching out to is a Real Human Being, and don’t hedge your bets. You can do this!  


Much like laundry, Sara Blanchard’s life runs in cycles. After graduating from Harvard, the financial cycle took her to Tokyo, Hong Kong, and New York. The wellness cycle trained her in life coaching and positive psychology. The parenting cycle--not a cycle, more commitment, call it permanent press--saw her struggling as a stay-at-home mom until she found a better way and founded the Flex Mom movement. Follow her on twitter, Instagram, or Facebook

LifestyleVirginia McCarver