Asking is Free
I was cringing inside.
This was taking too long to just order a piece of toast.
My friend loves to go off menu:
Start off with the classic tostada con tomate …but is it possible to just do half of this, and get the other half with salmon? Can you bring extra sea salt, and oh, some olive oil too?
During these RequestFests™, I’d get embarrassed that we were asking too much of the wait staff. Of annoying other people.
The amazing thing was, the majority of the time, she got exactly what she wanted:
This small, pedestrian example made me question…
What if I truly asked for things that I wanted?
And a graver question…
How many times in my life have I denied myself what I wanted, simply because I was afraid of asking?
Unfortunately, I have many personal examples:
- Mediocre haircuts because I was afraid of asking my barber to do more.
- Substandard meals because I didn’t want to ask the kitchen to redo a botched order.
- Not asking to get paid for extra hours I committed to on a project.
(Do you have any examples from everyday life? I’d love to hear in the comments.)
The Fear of Asking
It struck me how shamelessly my friend made her requests.
Shameless. That’s just the word. If she was shameless in asking…then I was shameful in asking.
Doing some root cause analysis, I realized that this shame came from my fear of not being liked.
- What if I annoy others?
- Will they think I’m cheap?
- What would they think of me after making this request?
I developed a fear of rejection, and it all showed up in a piece of toast.
There should be no moral judgment by merely asking.
After all, businesses make money by providing for their clients. Restaurants are meant to serve their diners. Customer service representatives are paid to, well, deliver customer service.
On the flip side, here’s an opportunity to practice personal responsibility. If I’m unhappy with an outcome but don’t make a request for change, that’s on me. I have no right to resent others if I don’t communicate my wants¹.
The best part is that sometimes you do get what you want…and the only cost is the discomfort of asking.
Changing my mental model around asking
“You don’t like asking for help, do you?”
It was a couple hours before a Dinner with Strangers event, and a friend watched me scramble to organize everything myself.
”Let me help you. Make me feel useful.”
Little moments like this loosen the screws of my reality -
My shame-based mental model had me assume that I was bothering people by making requests.
This incurred an emotional cost that disincentivized me from asking.
Now I see making requests as an opportunity to make others feel good and useful.
I realized the reverse was was true in my life.
When people asked me for help, I was glad to help.
When great things were asked of me, I rose to the occasion².
Some questions to try on
The more that I ask, the more comfortable I get with asking.
With practice, the emotional cost of making requests goes down.
Some questions to try on:
- Can we try this?
- Is this customizable?
- Are there other options?
- May I suggest something?
Now asking is not only free, but can it can be an empowering way to include others and live a more fun, responsible life.
- AKA “hidden contracts,” which are unspoken social expectations. Don’t resent someone for not giving you something you didn’t ask for. ↩
- When former bosses and managers asked me to take on big projects, I was humbled they trusted me with a big responsibility. I suspect that the biggest cause of employee disengagement is that big enough things are not asked of them. ↩
Originally published at Oz Chen.