How To Ask For Anything
Whatever you want in life, you’re going to have to ask for it. It doesn’t matter if you desire to excel in your career or to live on the beach — I’ve done both — you’re going to need other people’s help.
A problem many of us face is that we think of every ask as a unique event. Asking for a raise is different to asking for a date is different to asking for a sale. As a result, we focus on developing situation-specific strategies that might work for one thing, but seldom make us better at asking for everything.
Getting someone to do what you want is influence, and influence is a fundamental skill we all need. You don’t need 20 “influence hacks.” To become an expert at asking for what you want, you need a reliable system that you use over and over again in every situation.
Why Every Ask Comes Down To The Same Skill
How do you get someone to do what you want? There’s only one way: They must want to do it. Dale Carnegie called this “arousing an eager want.”
Bullies and dictators for eons have proven you can force someone to do what you want, but that’s not influence, that’s coercion. Coercion comes from leveraging power over someone, and it creates a toxic relationship. There’s a reason dictatorships tend to fail.
To become expert at influencing others, you must learn to influence the way other people influence themselves.
Asking for a raise? Your boss must decide they want to do that for you. Trying to get together with a man or woman you met at a party? They must want to see you again. There’s no manipulating this, no quick fixes or hacks. You can’t read a list-ical of great pickup lines and solve all your romantic problems.
The only way to consistently get what you ask for is to understand the underlying structure of influence. While there are many tools and devices I teach my clients, this Four Step Protocol is the structure from which everything else hangs.
1. Narrow Down Your Intent
Being uncertain of what you want from a conversation is the equivalent of jumping in a cab and just telling the cabbie to “drive.” To get what you want, you must have a clear ask.
Too often businesses and fund managers trying to raise capital focus on getting the prospect to sign on the dotted line and agree to a large investment, when you rarely need to go for the big ask. In most meetings, you’re not there to ask for the order, you’re there to progress the encounter to the next step.
A man doesn’t meet a woman at a bar and ask her to marry him. Even if he’s certain she’s the one, he first needs to get her to see him again!
Too often in life we think of big asks in the context of a “come-to Jesus” moment, where it’s “now or never,” where we “have to put it all on the table.”
Wrong, in nearly every situation of influence, it’s the many small wins that over time lead to the big money shot. So, instead of thinking through how you get someone to “jump through all those hoops,” simply get clear on that one next hoop you must have them jump through if you’re to keep moving towards your ultimate vision.
In the case of raising capital, that means screening who’s serious or not, and getting them to the next conversation or diligence step. In asking for something from your boss, it might mean first getting them to agree on exploring it with you. And dating, well, start with building enough of a relationship with a person that they feel good about seeing you again.
2. Decide on Your Character
In influencing others, most the time people ask, “What must I do?” Instead ask, Who must you be? Think about that for a moment. When a person shows up to influence you, aren’t you first focused on who that person is before you care about what they’re asking you to do?
If some random dude on the street tried to give you a parking ticket, do you listen to them? If your brother or sister tried to get you to clean up your room as a kid, did you comply the same way as if your parents asked? No. “The Character” that gets you to comply with such an “order” must have authority.
Hence, if you want someone to do what you want, you must ask yourself, who must I be? This I call The Character.
Sometimes people have a problem with this idea because they think it means to be “inauthentic.” They imagine all the worst salespeople they’ve talked to, and Internet scammers they know are constantly putting up a front.
But, the reality is, we are always playing different characters. You’re a different person with your boss as you are with your spouse as you are with your parents as you are with your college friends. It’s a simple fact, the word “persona” is derived from the Latin word, “mask.”
And the key to this second step is to play that “version of you” that is most likely to influence the other person.
For instance, do you have a “big meeting” set up with your boss to discuss your career? Ask yourself, who must you be in that meeting? The same cool happy-go-lucky person who crushes it for him or her, or someone who is clearly focused on achieving your intent, being the version of you that is most likely to achieve it?
Will they respond well to high energy, or would they prefer someone with a more composed vibe? Do they need you to be serious or light-hearted? Must that character show up as a “good slave,” or as an ambitious person focused on optimizing their career?
Whatever the context and whatever the goal, be very clear on which version of you must show up if you are to get it.
3. Figure Out What State They Need To Be In
If you read other writings on influence, you will not see this step included, which is why most advice regarding influence is useless.
Many highly intelligent and sophisticated people still think that influence comes down to having “smart-sounding ideas” (e.g. Hillary Clinton), when influence is almost ENTIRELY about changing the way someone feels (their “emotional” state).
Think about it this way. If you’re tired and can’t be bothered doing anything, then even the most compelling arguments will likely fail to get you off the sofa and out for a run. So before I get you to the point of thinking about the run, I want to first change your state.
How? Well, first you want to show up in state. If you want your boss to get excited about an opportunity you’re pitching him or her, then don’t show up cynical and pessimistic.
Talk about the idea from a state of excitement, and get them to feel the same way.
Want to sell, say, an entire population on voting for you to “make the country great again?” Don’t show up and tell them how great things are. Remind them of all of the pain they are already in, and then lead them to your good-feeling solution.
Again, this is a different approach to influence than most people espouse, which is why most people LOSE, including presidential candidates, as I wrote in this book. Don’t try to change someone’s mind. Change their state, which changes their mind for them.
The key to this step is to be very clear on what state leads to the behavior that you want, and to be expert at triggering it in yourself and others.
4. Map Out Your Path To What You Want
One of the hallmarks of a terrible capital raiser or salesperson is that at the end of the 1 hour bludgeoning they turn around and ask you, “So, are you interested?”
It’s uncomfortable to feel like you spent the last 55 minutes building a relationship with someone just so they could hit you with an ask. It makes the whole exchange seem inauthentic, and it makes you less likely to give them what they want.
The best influencers walk into every situation with a very clear map for how they plan to move someone from where they are to where they want them to be. They don’t have an obscenely detailed script — top influencers use process, not scripts — but they are obscenely clear on how they are going to lead the encounter to their desired outcome.
Many people do this ad-hoc, and again, that’s why many people fail. Instead, I suggest that my clients do this so deliberately that every aspect of the meeting has been planned for, including the small talk at the front of the encounter.
You must keep in mind that the game is on before it’s even begun. If you were to meet with one of my clients in the context of a sale, those two stories that they tell you at the start of the meeting aren’t random at all, but starting their process of influence. The first story is “situational,” designed to start building rapport, and the second, well, that’s already raising your buying temperature, “inducing state.”
The same is true with every other aspect of the meeting. They know what they are there for, and they’ve laid out a very clear path to getting you there.
Be Willing To Give — Not Just Ask
At the core of this structure is the notion that influence is state-based. People will only help you when it feels good to do so. That might come from you “inducing state,” or it might come through you being the sort of person that other people want to do good things for.
You see, all this stuff on influence is one thing, but the best influencers in the world aren’t “manipulative.” They have naturally become the sort of people that other people respond to.
This rarely happens out of some type of selfless will, but when someone is doing something good for us, we naturally want to do good things for them in return.
Our culture, especially our business culture, likes to emphasize how cut-throat this world is, and in many ways it can be. When it comes to asking each other for help, however, we can’t afford to be so cynical. The act of giving relies on our ability to feel good about helping each other, and if we see this as a cold exchange of “value,” we’re far less likely to get what we ask for.
This is hard for many people, so if you need guidance with these concepts, reach out to us. We have an advisory team who is particularly expert at these types of things. You can talk to them here.