The Importance of Asking

The phone rang. Don’t pick up, don’t pick up, don’t pick up.

“Hi there!”

My voice jumped up an octave. I smiled, though they couldn’t tell. I started by inquiring how they are doing, and laughed at any joke. This went on. I asked about how business was, what audience they were trying to reach, and how they have done that so far. Then it was time. Hey batter batter. Have I got a deal for you!

Then came the avoidance, the shifty tone of voice, the excuses, and eventually a flat no. I would hang up the phone and feel completely defeated. I never wanted to do that again.

Few people actually enjoy asking other people for things. I already felt that way, but after my job in sales I was even more averse to the practice of asking. Thankfully I got out of that job and found something I actually care about.

And then I realized I still had to ask people for things.

Every job involves asking something from others. As a teacher, you must ask your students to participate in learning. As a doctor, you must ask patients what their needs are and ask nurses or support staff to assist you. As an accountant, you need to ask people to trust you with their finances and about their goals for their money.

Outside of work, we also have to ask for things. We have to ask for help from friends when we are moving or need a ride to the airport. We have to ask for money from parents or loans from banks. We have to ask for dressing on the side or an extra plate. From the superficial to the serious—the things we ask for matter to us, which is why we must bother to ask at all.

My experience in a sales job was especially difficult because I didn’t believe in the product I was selling. But I already had a foundational fear of asking. I don’t want to be pushy. I don’t want to be a bother. I don’t want to be demanding. These are all excuses and lies about what it means to ask for something.

In the United States we glorify independence and self-sufficiency. Asking someone for something you want, instead of throwing all the tea in the harbor and declaring treason, seems weak. We should be pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps, and if someone else gives us a hand then our success is somehow diminished.

Again, this is a lie. Being self-sufficient is a good thing, but no one can really survive on their own forever. Everyone who is successful got to where they are because they knew how to ask other people for the things they wanted. The trick is doing this without being labeled pushy or needy.

So how can we transform the negative stigma associated with asking and move beyond the boundaries? The key is in asking well, and being well-intentioned.

It helps me to remember that the Bible encourages us to ask boldly of God and others.

“Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.” – Mark 11:24

“…in everything, by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God.” – Philippians 4:6

“If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.” – John 15:7

We aren’t always given what we want, but we are usually given what we need. And asking in the right way means being conscious of want versus need, as well as being open to hearing no.

Boldness is different than pushiness. One is done with consideration, the other is done selfishly. One is inspired by a greater purpose, the other is seemingly unimportant. 

We never know what is going on in someone else’s lives. We should never make assumptions and let that deter us from asking. Perhaps they will surprise us and say yes. Or if they say no, having a gracious and understanding response will preserve the relationship. People will always welcome you in when you show sensitivity to their time and space.

If you don’t ask, you won’t get. But if you ask poorly, you also won’t get anything.

The recent disagreement between Taylor Swift and Apple exemplifies how to ask well. Apple said it was going to stream music on it’s new service for three months free without paying royalties to the artists. Taylor Swift posted an open letter on her Tumblr calmly explaining why she would withhold her newest album from the service because of this. And Apple promptly announced a plan to change their policy.

Why did this work? It is not just because she is Taylor Swift. It is because she asked well.

Allison Vesterfelt, on the Storyline blog, summed up the reasons perfectly. Taylor Swift got what she wanted for three reasons:
  • “She focused on the problem at hand, not Apple’s identity.”
  • “She shared her thoughts and feelings but didn’t make it about her.”
  • “She acknowledges their desired outcome and offers a new suggestion.”

We all have to ask things from other people. Whether it be for work, in our friendships, or with God, asking well is an important skill to develop and not shy away from. To ask well, you should consider the other party’s position and show consideration for where they are at. Don’t only think about your needs or be possessive about what you want. Be open to a different outcome, but also take responsibility for your own position.

Ultimately we can’t control what other people do, or whether they say yes when we ask for something. But we can control the way we ask, and our response. Don’t let fear stop you from boldly asking, especially when it is something you believe in. You may just be the Taylor Swift in this case.

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