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How to Ask For What you Want…And Get What You Need

How to Ask For What you Want…And Get What You Need

Asking for a favor seems like a simple enough transaction: Hey, Bob, will you pick up an extra donut for me? Jill, could I ride to work with you in the morning?

Then, you get to more complicated requests: Karen, will you fill in for me next week while I am out of town? Marcie, can you introduce me to some of your professional acquaintances?

Requests and offers are an important part of everyday life, and without thorough discussion, they inevitably lead to misunderstanding, hard feelings and even loss of relationships.

Yet, few parents, teachers or employers think about teaching this important life skill. This means most of us learn to make requests through trial and error. We never learn the art of seductive requests—those requests that entice others to help, make lives easier and, surprisingly, often strengthen relationships.

Without the ability to make seductive requests, individuals take on tasks they are not equipped to handle when someone else could complete them better or faster. They spend hours learning to do something outside their stated mission or area of expertise. They take time from the things that really matter for them, and they may deny someone else the opportunity to grow or provide a service they would enjoy doing.


As suggested previously, asking for a favor seems to improve the relationship. This phenomenon is called the Ben Franklin Effect. According to the story Benjamin Franklin asked a rival legislator to borrow a very rare and valued book. Afterward, Franklin wrote:

When we next met in the House, he spoke to me (which he had never done before), and with great civility; and he ever after manifested a readiness to serve me on all occasions, so that we became great friends, and our friendship continued to his death.

There is some research to support Franklin’s theory. 371.extract (1968) conducted an experiment in which they asked students to return money they received after participating in a survey. The fake researcher was not particularly pleasant to them, but from three groups of students, the group who were asked to return the money to the researcher because of lack of research funding rated the unpleasant researcher higher in likeability than either of the two control groups.

In a second similar study, Schopler and Compere worked with a group of students to teach them to repeat a particular tapping pattern. One group of teachers were told to praise and support the students. The other group criticized the learners. Afterward, the first group of teachers rated the students they praised and encouraged significantly higher in likeability than the teachers who used harsh methods. In an article about dogs, Case (2014) effectively summarizes these two studies for her audience.

For leaders, the ability to make seductive requests and offers is particularly important. While some would think that leaders simply tell someone what to do, asking is much more effective and has the added bonus of strengthening working relationships. Requests can help to make others feel valued.

It is nice to think that a leadership title automatically entices others to help, but sometimes the title has the opposite effect. When asking for something outside a person’s normal duties or work hours, leaders can meet resistance and even resentment if requests are thoughtless or clumsy.

Making requests can expose vulnerability. In spite of the importance of requests, many people find it difficult to make them. Some reasons include fear of rejection, fear of indebtedness, fear of hurting the relationship, fear of being dependent or fear of appearing pushy or demanding. Some avoid making requests because they feel somehow undeserving. Each of these fears can lead to ineffective and unsuccessful efforts to go it alone.

I grew up believing that doing things on my own showed independence and skill. It meant I did not have to depend on other people. Later in life, it came as a revelation to me that making a request can be a gift to someone. I saw that asking someone for a favor can show trust and a desire to interact. I now believe that most people like to help when they can.

The outcomes of making requests most often outweigh the risks. Requests provide the opportunity to be more effective. They allow others the opportunity to serve, and they strengthen relationship when presented in the appropriate way.

However, before considering requests, it is important to evaluate and sometimes bolster relationships. Looking at relationship as a vehicle to make requests damages any relationship.

It is important to hold and demonstrate an attitude of helpfulness before the need for a request arises. It is essential to be part of the solution first.

Knowing the value of making requests is important. Knowing how to make seductive requests is much more so. Keep in mind the following suggestions for skillful requests:

  • Before making a request, think about and practice what to say and how to say it. Consider the reaction of the person from whom you are making the request.
  • Begin with an introduction. I'd like to ask you for a favor. I need your help for a big project. This gives the person a moment for preparation.
  • If you are going to include pleasantries or compliments, put them last. If you put them first, it seems manipulative and phony. It introduces mistrust. After asking the favor, it may be appreciated.
  • Add why you are asking: I have a conflict; I made a promise to my family; people are depending on me to complete the project.
  • Be specific. Be sure to negotiate conditions of satisfaction. These include specific information about when, where, how often, who else may be involved, why, etc.
  • Acknowledge their situations including their time or other commitments they may have. I know it's a very busy time of the year. I know you just finished a big project yourself.
  • Provide an opportunity to say no. If you don’t have the time now, I will understand.
  • Avoid using guilt techniques. You owe me this because of what I have done for you.
  • Ask with confidence in yourself.
  • Ask with respect for the other person and their needs.
  • Ask with the belief that the other person will agree.
  • Be willing to reciprocate. For someone to want to help, he or she often needs a realistic belief that you may be willing to help them in the future if asked.
  • Accept refusal politely. Don't take it personally.
  • Follow up with sincere thanks, a note or a small gift.

Requests not only help individuals in groups and organizations. When people in a group feel comfortable making requests and offers, more tasks get done. The organization is more productive.

Simon Sinek’s valuable video below addresses requests and the interplay of risk, vulnerability and serving others. He asserts that one must have self-confidence before they can help someone else.

He suggests that it is the responsibility of management to provide individuals with opportunities to realize their potential, to become confident and to help out others in the organization.

As you consider the importance of making requests and how to make them, what is your experience with requests? Do you feel comfortable doing so? Do you think of requests in terms of how they affect relationship? Do you create an environment in which others feel comfortable to make requests and offers?

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