Monday, October 31, 2011

If You Don't Ask, The Answer is Always No!

Making an ASK (defined as a request) may not change your team, business, or life exponentially, but not ASKing will ensure the status quo remains. Making a request or an ASK can have a significant difference in the quality of your business, team, or life and help you quickly achieve what you need.

Take Mike’s situation. He is the leader of a pretty effective team. This team has energy, passion and is meeting deadlines at warp speed. However, this team tends to work in isolation from one another. When they have sat back and pinpointed where the pinch points are, many have led back to not ASKing (for help, clarification, feedback, time and resources). What has been preventing the team members ASKing for help? The first response was, “We didn’t know that we could (ask for help).” The pace of the work and the environment they worked in didn’t really model asking one another for assistance. Their leader Mike rarely ASKed for help, so some felt that there was an unwritten rule about ASKing, and avoided it.

The second reason the ASK was avoided stemmed from a fear of what others would think.

The third was the fear of being perceived as incapable, unable to do the job, or weak. Fear and not knowing were at the root of their inability to ASK. This was a high performing team; imagine the results if they stepped out of their comfort zone to ASK…their results would be incredible!

Creating an ASK environment and giving yourself and others permission to ASK is an important step in creating the space for team members (and leaders) to step out of their comfort zone. The environment must be safe to ASK.

Jane worked for an educational institution that placed high value on innovation, engagement and learning - not just for students, but also for staff. This environment seemed to invite employees to ASK. Sam had the opposite experience. He worked for a paramilitary organization that had a long way to go in creating an ASK environment. As a new employee, he recalled having lots to learn. His first few requests for mentoring and guidance were met with a white binder being placed in his hands accompanied by, “It’s in the manual. Read it!” Sam avoided ASKing for help for a long time.

Let’s be real for a moment. Doing an ASK in no way guarantees that your request will be met. However, one thing’s for certain. Not asking ensures that your request will not be met. As a professional in the business of helping individuals and teams exceed their potential and meet their needs, I am constantly reminded of how few people ask for what they need. And I am more surprised at how people sabotage the ASK the moment the words leave their mouth, or ask in a way that diminishes the importance of their request.

Let’s talk about Sally, a long term employee in public service who has held the same position for many years. Although she wanted to move up the corporate ladder, she shared that she was now just “putting in time”. I was curious to what happened to her goal. Sally responded with a simple statement: “I never got a promotion!”

Hesitant to ASK what was in my mind, I bit the bullet. “Did your supervisor know that you wanted to be promoted, to move up the corporate ladder?”

Sally looked at me as if I had three heads. She sighed and said, “Why should I have to tell her? She should know. I was here so long I was becoming part of the woodwork.”

Sally expected her supervisor to be a mind-reader. How sad! Sally had missed these opportunities and was now miserable at work. The more I spoke to Sally, the more I learned that this pattern was prevalent in her life. She expected her spouse to “just know” what she needed or felt, and was constantly disappointed when her expectations were not met. Sally had become bitter and blamed the company and her supervisor for not promoting her, but took no responsibility for changing her situation, or for letting her employer know her needs and goals. In fact, she didn’t even mention her goals during her performance reviews. It was almost as though she “tested” her supervisor to see if she could figure it out. How different Sally’s life and business may have been if she had dabbled her foot over that discomfort line in the sand, and let people know her goals and ASKed for opportunities to grow with the organization.

Bob had a similar attitude and belief system as Sally. He identified enough “problems” to fill a sheet of flip chart paper during a facilitated brainstorming session on how to build a healthier work culture. Bob’s common response to many questions was, “Same s---, different day.” I watched the energy drain from his colleagues’ faces every time he made that statement, but Bob was completely unaware of the impact his words had on those around him. He looked at problems, not possibilities. He was so caught up in what was wrong, broken or not working to consider what it could be like. Bob’s way of being prevented people from ASKing him, too.

ASKing is uncomfortable for most of us but we need to be willing to go outside our comfort zone to receive what we need. We also need to be open to helping others overcome their discomfort and find their voice to ASK. By being willing to ASK we can set an example for others to do the same. By being approachable, we can give others the opportunities they need to ASK for themselves.

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