How To Ask For Anything

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geoffblades - Certified Professional
Rank: King Kong | banana points 1,964

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.

Mod Note (Andy): top 50 posts of 2017, this one ranks #29 (based on # of silver bananas)

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Comments (65)

Apr 25, 2017

Thanks, really helpful

Apr 25, 2017

I'm thinking of making cold calls to IB, HF, etc. to get entry level job. Will helpp thiese tips in mind

Apr 25, 2017

Taking is better

heister:

Look at all these wannabe richies hating on an expensive salad.

    • 5
Apr 25, 2017

The man, the legend has returned.

Apr 26, 2017
geoffblades:

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.

@geoffblades Could you give more insight into these two stories told before the meeting starts?

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Apr 26, 2017

@geoffblades , tl;dr give me a cliff's notes version that I could read on the way to the airport.

But seriosuly, great read.

GoldenCinderblock: "I keep spending all my money on exotic fish so my armor sucks. Is it possible to romance multiple females? I got with the blue chick so far but I am also interested in the electronic chick and the face mask chick."

    • 1
Best Response
Apr 26, 2017

I always try to put everything in someone else's self interest.

At work anything I suggest is to improve the sales process to improve profitability.

At home w/ roommates always make it for their interest.

Always increases the likelyhood of things getting done.

Sales 101

    • 4
May 6, 2017

Dale Carnegie talks in depth about this throughout his book, although I personally, find it hard to put something into someone else's self interest in everyday situations - it takes practice.

'I'm jacked... JACKED TO THE TITS!!'

    • 1
Apr 26, 2017

Wow. What a powerful advice. Thank you very much for this posting.

Apr 26, 2017

For number 4, then how do you ask? You're there to get capital, so how would you ask if not at the end of the meeting? Obviously in a more refined manner

    • 1
Apr 26, 2017

Truly excellent post. Bookmarked and silver banana'd

    • 1
Apr 26, 2017

TLDR;

Ask yourself what feeling you're attempting to transfer.

Apr 28, 2017

Great post! @geoffblades I am also curious about the pre-meeting storytelling aspect. Do you have a couple examples you could share?

I'm imagining if you want to get a project approved at work it would be best if the decision maker was in a good mood when you pitched your plan. You mention building rapport, and then raising their buying temp. For the first story I could imagine a recent golf/ski/whatever they are into story, but I don't understand what you mean by the second story.

Thanks!

Dec 27, 2017

I general shoot for modernized versions of children stories, or the weather.

Apr 29, 2017

Understanding your audience and how to effectively communicate your thoughts/feelings to them in a way that is reasonable and relatable goes a long way. Makes the world of difference in inspiring others to act.

Try it with co-workers, always a good start.

Apr 30, 2017

This is really solid. I find this to be top bucket gold.

May 1, 2017

It reminds me the TED Talk from Simon Sinek: "How great leaders inspire action". Good job!

May 2, 2017

Great post. +1 SB'ed.

"Even if you're on the right track, you'll get run over if you just sit there" - Will Rogers

May 2, 2017

Thank you for your insight. I read Dale Carnegie's How to... and this was a great supplement.

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May 3, 2017

Awesome post, thanks so much.

May 4, 2017

Brilliant, thanks for this posting.

May 5, 2017

Good article!

May 6, 2017

Its really great post. i love it.

May 9, 2017

Very informative post shared. It is really helpful.

Dec 28, 2017

Very helpful. Bookmarked and SB'd

Dec 28, 2017

I let my uncle talk about himself for 3+ hours then asked him, would it be possible if he could look into getting me an internship. Exact words "ok" and then he kept talking about himself.

The answer to your question is 1) network 2) get involved 3) beef up your resume 4) repeat -happypantsmcgee

WSO is not your personal search function.

Dec 28, 2017

Is it really necessary to network with your uncle? Wouldn't most uncles just help you straight-up?

Dec 28, 2017
swagon:

Is it really necessary to network with your uncle? Wouldn't most uncles just help you straight-up?

That doesn't sound like networking, more like an uncle trying to impress his nephew.

Dec 28, 2017
HarvardOrBust:
swagon:

Is it really necessary to network with your uncle? Wouldn't most uncles just help you straight-up?

That doesn't sound like networking, more like an uncle trying to impress his nephew.

Ok, and were your parents just trying to "impress" you by providing you shelter? They just thought it would make them look cool in your eyes, I bet. You really should have had to network with them more as a child before they went through all that trouble to pay for your food and drive you to school.

What the hell kind of relationships did you all have with your uncles? Mine isn't a stanger that I need to "reach out to" in order to establish the relationship necessary to get my resume passed on b/c I ALREADY have a really tight relationship with him b/c - wait for it...wait for it - he's my fucking uncle. I've been tight with him since I was young, we are blood, we know each other very well, so I don't need to call him up to ask a bunch of BS questions about how he got where he was or to gain his trust. He already knows me well enough to either pass on my resume if I'm sharp, or well enough to know I'm a fuck up and to find a nice way to not pass on my resume. No networking is needed for him to get to know me better. Sure, not everyone is as tight with their uncle, but surely you can understand that many people are, and thus don't have to network with them.

Dec 28, 2017
swagon:
HarvardOrBust:
swagon:

Is it really necessary to network with your uncle? Wouldn't most uncles just help you straight-up?

That doesn't sound like networking, more like an uncle trying to impress his nephew.

Ok, and were your parents just trying to "impress" you by providing you shelter? They just thought it would make them look cool in your eyes, I bet. You really should have had to network with them more as a child before they went through all that trouble to pay for your food and drive you to school.

What the hell kind of relationships did you all have with your uncles? Mine isn't a stanger that I need to "reach out to" in order to establish the relationship necessary to get my resume passed on b/c I ALREADY have a really tight relationship with him b/c - wait for it...wait for it - he's my fucking uncle. I've been tight with him since I was young, we are blood, we know each other very well, so I don't need to call him up to ask a bunch of BS questions about how he got where he was or to gain his trust. He already knows me well enough to either pass on my resume if I'm sharp, or well enough to know I'm a fuck up and to find a nice way to not pass on my resume. No networking is needed for him to get to know me better. Sure, not everyone is as tight with their uncle, but surely you can understand that many people are, and thus don't have to network with them.

lol he was just joking about how his uncle hooked him up dude and talked his ear off chill. Your probably a very smart kid and your uncle will also hook you up.

I'm asking SPECIFICALLY about EMAILING people in your network, forget about family, people you have met, worked for, or know of through someone.

Sorry should of been more specific, didn't realize how many trustfund babies waste their time on WSO

Dec 28, 2017
HarvardOrBust:
swagon:

Is it really necessary to network with your uncle? Wouldn't most uncles just help you straight-up?

That doesn't sound like networking, more like an uncle trying to impress his nephew.

.....whatever works I suppose

Dec 28, 2017

Generally speaking - you don't want to ask them outright... unless it's a really close family member/friend (your dad, your godfather, etc...)

Assuming it's, for example, your dad's friend "jack" who works at GS as a senior banker and you usually see once or twicer per year... I might write him something like "Hi Jack, sorry I didn't get to see you this year over the holidays this year... did you guys make it out to aspen at all this season? The snow was great! Anyways, the reason I am emailing is because I wondered if you had time to talk to me about investment banking. I'm not sure if we've talked about this before, but I am really interested in getting into the business and I was hoping you might be able to offer some insights, as I know you have had a lot of success and experience at GS...."

something informal and short like that... if he wants to help you more than that he will - but let him be the one that suggests that idea when you are talking on the phone.

So, this is just one way to do it - but that's the way I have in the past - and with substantial success (multiple internships, jobs, etc. out of this method).

If it's someone you don't know as well, or have never talked to, but is your parents' friend, then usually you'll want to have your dad etc. send and introductory email

Dec 28, 2017

Oh, ok. My b.

No, I don't have an uncle in banking, I'm just saying that IF my uncle was in banking I wouldn't have to network with him. Also, I sure as hell ain't no trust fund baby.

Dec 28, 2017

Haha dude I was joking. You never had a family member who liked to brag about his shit? Maybe you've got the abnormal family here...

Jokes aside, establish a relationship with an alum, and eventually ask him about how to position yourself for recruiting. If you guys have a decent relationship, then he will most likely ask you for your resume to pass on. If not, be blunt about it or ask him if he knows anyone else you can talk to. It's a constant search for hits.

Dec 28, 2017
HarvardOrBust:

Haha dude I was joking. You never had a family member who liked to brag about his shit? Maybe you've got the abnormal family here...

Jokes aside, establish a relationship with an alum, and eventually ask him about how to position yourself for recruiting. If you guys have a decent relationship, then he will most likely ask you for your resume to pass on. If not, be blunt about it or ask him if he knows anyone else you can talk to. It's a constant search for hits.

This. I wasn't just going to be like umm uncle can you give me a job.. granted he probably would be like well see what I can do but yeah still I just asked for some advice he talked and talked and then I asked for a job..

The answer to your question is 1) network 2) get involved 3) beef up your resume 4) repeat -happypantsmcgee

WSO is not your personal search function.

Dec 28, 2017

Ask for a job... you'll get advice.

Ask for advice...you'll get a job.

You know who the person you are trying to network with is. Ask them about the industry/sector they are in, they'll be impressed you are interested at all as most kids just want to get krunk and screw (nothing wrong with that, just won't get you a job) and not talk about business. They'll talk about themselves and their industry, and if you show any promise in the conversation they'll ask where you are looking to apply/see yourself. You say you don't know, they will ask for the resume and pass it along, or you hint that maybe they could pass it on for you and so forth. Not hard.

If you ask someone to pass your resume along straight up they'll toss it in the trash immediately unless you are related to a major client or some other bsd.

Dec 28, 2017

You should ABSOLUTELY reach out to previous mentors for help. The previous employer thing is a bit more difficult to answer. What did you do for this employer, how did you add value to his or her organization, did you leave on a positive note, or more importantly, why did you leave, etc. Sending an email or a quick phone call their way will usually yield some sort of result as you have previous dealings with these people (ie not a cold call) so its certainly worth a shot particularly in your current situation

If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses - Henry Ford

Dec 28, 2017
happypantsmcgee:

You should ABSOLUTELY reach out to previous mentors for help. The previous employer thing is a bit more difficult to answer. What did you do for this employer, how did you add value to his or her organization, did you leave on a positive note, or more importantly, why did you leave, etc. Sending an email or a quick phone call their way will usually yield some sort of result as you have previous dealings with these people (ie not a cold call) so its certainly worth a shot particularly in your current situation

What about if that previous employer was a mentor...? Same thing, just reach out and don't think twice?

Didn't work directly under his wing but rather for a group of his at his firm.

Dec 28, 2017

You need to make sure that you bridge the conversation rather that just asking for help. Reference the last project or assignment you performed with that person and indicate you are curious how everything worked out or that you were glad to have been a part of that project in the past -- sets the dialogue while also reminding the contact that you were in fact, helpful.

Don't be afraid to shoot an e-mail out referencing those past projects or mutual responsibilities without asking for anything at all -- think of it more like a "hey whats up?" but with substance. Getting the conversation started is half the battle because it's those preliminary conversations that are the hardest.

Dec 28, 2017

I think that is probably the best way to go about it.

Dec 28, 2017

Your thinking is good. Call him up and tell him pretty much exactly what you said here. You saw the position, think your a great fit, really excited about it, would like to talk to someone in the group about it.

The one thing I wouldn't mention is the fact that you're worried about your GPA. If you have an informational interview and they like you, your GPA will likely become a non-issue.

Dec 28, 2017

I would leave the GPA issue out of the conversation and focus on the positives. Contact the person you know and see if he can send your resume to HR in regards to the specific job you want. Good luck!

Dec 28, 2017

I sent my contact a message on linkedin a few days but he hasn't replied yet :(. I did meet him about 8-10 months ago so maybe he forgot about me.

The email of the associate who is hiring is mentioned in the job description. I guess I will just send in my application.

Dec 28, 2017
IRSPB:

I sent my contact a message on linkedin a few days but he hasn't replied yet :(. I did meet him about 8-10 months ago so maybe he forgot about me.

The email of the associate who is hiring is mentioned in the job description. I guess I will just send in my application.

Have you considered emailing the associate and directly asking for an info interview? Don't forget to mention your interest in the bank stemming from your original contact.

Dec 28, 2017
timatom90:
IRSPB:

I sent my contact a message on linkedin a few days but he hasn't replied yet :(. I did meet him about 8-10 months ago so maybe he forgot about me.

The email of the associate who is hiring is mentioned in the job description. I guess I will just send in my application.

Have you considered emailing the associate and directly asking for an info interview? Don't forget to mention your interest in the bank stemming from your original contact.

Oh I didn't consider that. In my info interview request, should I mention that I am applying to the job and say "hey I am applying to this position and I want to learn more about it. Can you give me an info interview?" Or should I go "hey I am interested in banking in industry X at your bank. I met Mr from industry group Y earlier. Can you give me an info interview?" and then bring up the job posting after the interview.

Normally I try to build a network in advance and am fairly sure how to go about it. But this situation I am not sure what would be the proper way to approach. Thanks everyone!!

Dec 28, 2017

Ok so I reached out to him and he asked me to get back to him in a month, which is way after the deadline and the hiring would have been done. I guess I am kinda screwed. Would it be okay if I say I saw this job posting and was wondering how I should position myself to get an interview or would that be deemed impolite or whatever? What should I do now?

Please help!

Dec 28, 2017

What is RJ's GPA requirement?

"I do not think that there is any other quality so essential to success of any kind as the quality of perseverance. It overcomes almost everything, even nature."

Dec 28, 2017

I would say an email around this time saying something along the lines of...

Recruiting season is coming up and I was wondering if you could offer up some advice as to what would be the best way to position myself to get an interview at your firm

Dec 28, 2017

Also, ask some of the people you've met in person to make introductions for you with industry professionals in the field you desire. Depending on the size of the firms, continue to look for openings on company websites, linkedin, etc where the contact could help your resume along internally.

Dec 28, 2017

When I was a junior banker, it was always uncomfortable to refer someone - I didn't REALLY know them, the higher-ups had more control of the recruiting process, and who was I to try to steer that process? So it's very easy for someone to take a call, answer some questions, and do nothing from there.

You need to specifically ask for a referral. I assume you are talking about full-time recruiting, for which there are open positions.

Say "Thanks for your time. Would you be comfortable referring me to HR? I know a referral will at least get my resume in the hands of someone that will give it a hard look. All I am asking for is that opportunity to prove myself from there".

That really alleviates the burden or concern where your contact is thinking "Do I have confidence in this person to not embarrass me?". You are asking for a fair look, and everyone knows that most resume submissions aren't given more than a cursory glance.

If you are just broadly networking, that is a lot harder. Asking for an interview when there isn't a position open generally doesn't work. I have said "please keep me in mind should there be an opening" but it's really on you to get back to your contact when that opening arises.

Dec 28, 2017

Grosse - thank you for the input that is good stuff. I am currently looking for SA opportunities though, does that change anything? Or do I still need to hunt for specific openings and then leverage my contacts to get a referral?

Dec 28, 2017

The people that you're networking with aren't stupid. they know what you want from the relationship.

Just tell them that you are looking for internship/FT opportunities and that if they know of anything and would agree to pass your resume along you would greatly appreciate it.

Dec 28, 2017

As someone on the receiving end of calls like this, I slightly disagree with the notion that everyone knows what you're looking for, especially for more senior people that haven't been in the recruiting game for years or decades.

Like Simple said though, I'd recommend just being polite, appreciative, but direct about it. The truth is, whether or not the person actually passes your resume along will depend on your relationship with them and the impression you've made, as well as their position within the organization and the particular way referrals work at their firm (it's different everywhere). However, by being direct and asking for what you want, you eliminate the risk of them simply not thinking of it.

Dec 28, 2017
dublin:

As someone on the receiving end of calls like this, I slightly disagree with the notion that everyone knows what you're looking for, especially for more senior people that haven't been in the recruiting game for years or decades.

Like Simple said though, I'd recommend just being polite, appreciative, but direct about it. The truth is, whether or not the person actually passes your resume along will depend on your relationship with them and the impression you've made, as well as their position within the organization and the particular way referrals work at their firm (it's different everywhere). However, by being direct and asking for what you want, you eliminate the risk of them simply not thinking of it.

^^^ I agree.

Dec 28, 2017

Thanks for the advice guys? Anyone else can share some pointers with me?

Dec 28, 2017
Dec 28, 2017

The difference between successful people and others is largely a habit - a controlled habit of doing every task better, faster and more efficiently.

Dec 28, 2017