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Go ahead and ask – you have the power

By Jennie Wong
Jennie Wong
Jennie Wong, Ph.D., is a nationally syndicated columnist, executive coach, and the creator of the product quiz website www.ABorC.com.

Lately, there’s been a lot of chatter around “asking,” from musician Amanda Palmer’s controversial TED Talk last year on “The Art of Asking,” to the recently released book by Michael Alden, “Ask More, Get More.” Not to mention the countless pixels of digital ink that have been spilled on gender differences when it comes to asking for what you want.

You might even go so far as to divide the world into two types of people – those who are comfortable asking for things and those who are not. And it seems that non-askers are endlessly fascinated by askers, sometimes seeking out their tips and tricks, and other times judging them for their shameless self-promotion and grasping ways.

Personally, I’ve always been an asker. There are many stories I could share, but perhaps all I need to tell you is that I once gave out my business card while I was a patient in the emergency room. From the gurney.

Which brings me to the crux of the matter: Can non-askers become askers?

Based on my decades in leadership development and as a professional coach, I believe the answer is a resounding yes. However, many of the commonly offered techniques that are taught to non-askers fail to address the underlying issue, which is the asker’s authority.

Merriam-Webster defines authority as “the power or right to direct or control someone or something.” So what gives us that power? What gives us the right to ask?

You have influence over others

This is probably the form of authority with which we are the most familiar. Legitimate authority is derived from our official position or title, and it’s what gives a police officer the right to ask you to move your car, or your mom the power to command your appearance at Sunday dinner. It’s important to remember that this type of authority usually carries the ability to reward and punish (or withhold rewards).

Non-askers can begin to ground themselves in their authority to ask by reviewing their legitimate role in a situation, along with their ability to give and take away.

You’re an expert

When you hear someone referred to as “an authority” on a particular subject, it usually means they are an expert and therefore have the right to give their opinion based on their extensive knowledge or experience.

You may be surprised to learn that expert authority is a secret weapon of askers. Non-askers tend to believe that it takes years of work to be able to claim expert status on a topic, but askers know that you can learn a lot in just an hour of online research, or sometimes even less. And it’s this quick hit of information that provides not only knowledge about what to ask but also the confidence to do the asking.

You are right

This one is a biggie. Moral authority simply means that you have “right” on your side.

And who’s to say what is right versus wrong? For someone who wants to get better at asking, it’s all about your gut. You may intellectually agree that your product or service is a good one, but do you truly and deeply feel in your gut that saying “yes” to you is the best thing for that person?

At their core, non-askers may feel that they should be happy with what they have, that it’s greedy to ask for more, that asking places a burden on the other person, or that a “yes” would constitute taking advantage. Askers, on the other hand, tend to believe that their requests are win-wins, which provides the moral authority for their requests. To wit, when I give out my business card, in my mind, I’m giving out Super Bowl tickets.

Putting it all together

So how can you tap your legitimate, expert and moral sources of power to ask with authority?

Consider the scenario in which you are asking a valued client to switch from project-based engagements to a monthly retainer. A non-asker might focus on the many ways in which this arrangement benefits them as a service provider but fundamentally feel bad about asking for such a commitment from the client, and therefore conveniently “forget” to bring it up.

Here’s how to ask with authority instead:

• Consider your role as a key service provider to this client. It is your job to provide your client with good options for their success. You have the legitimate ability to reward your retainer clients with “head of the line” service priority, as well as the ability to withhold your lowest rate.

• Research the billing history of the client, so that you can say with expert authority that they have exceeded 20 hours a month in services 11 of the past 12 months.

• Make sure you construct your “ask” in such a way that you truly believe saying yes is in your client’s best interests, as well as your own.

You’ll get more predictable revenues, and your client will get a nice 20 percent discount off their current hourly rate. If it doesn’t seem like a win-win, don’t wait to sweeten the deal in your client’s favor. Go ahead and throw in a meaningful perk – not because they would say no otherwise, but because it will make you feel great about the deal you’re offering, and allow you to ask with authority.

Jennie Wong, Ph.D. is a Charlotte-based executive coach and the founder of www.CartCentric.com, a friendsourcing tool for online shopping.
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