Just Ask: The Secret Source of Power

Obtaining help is multiplicative. You benefit. The helper benefits. Your team, organization or community benefits.

Fact: people who ask for help accomplish more. And, since power is the ability to get things done, people who ask for help enhance their personal power.

Why is asking so powerful?

  1. People are flattered when they are asked to help. Flattery builds rapport and we are predisposed to help people we like.
  2. People are hardwired to help. Not just Canadians!
  3. When people help, their positive self-perception is enhanced. People want to see themselves as being generous – in terms of time, expertise or resources. When they say “yes” they feel good and look good to others.
  4. Helping builds commitment to your success and your project’s success.
  5. Many hands make light work. You simply accomplish far more by leveraging the contributions of others.

I was reminded of the importance, power and simplicity of asking this week when I approached a local printer for pro-bono materials for my community’s upcoming Random Act of Kindness Day. As is often the case with community projects, there is zero budget and high expectations. This is such a great initiative that it is easy for people to say “yes”.  There is little or no cost and the benefits on morale and community building are excellent. Plus, participating organisations benefit from the goodwill that is generated by the event. Still, even with an easy ask, sometimes we hesitate. Why?

According to Jeffrey Pfeffer, author of Power, Why some people have it – and others don’t, we hesitate to ask because it’s uncomfortable, we fear rejection and, we are afraid we won’t seem self-reliant. But studies have shown that these fears are unfounded and that we underestimate others’ willingness to help. More importantly, we have nothing to lose!!!

There is no downside to asking for help. So ask away! Get more done and enhance your personal power in the process.

If  you ask for help and the person says “no”, you lose nothing. If they say “yes”, you are ahead. And, if a person declines your initial request, their hard-wired desire to collaborate means they are more likely to concede to a smaller request. While the “large to small” ask is classic negotiation, the “small to large” ask works too. A professional fundraiser I know revealed that when she approaches a major donor, she will often make a small request at first, like speaking to a group or agreeing to an interview for the organisation’s magazine. When the person becomes engaged and begins to see herself as a philanthropist, she becomes more receptive to a request for a major contribution.

Want more? Read every bit of Robert Cialdini’s book Influence (even the footnotes!) and both Jeffrey Pfeffer books Power: Why some people have it and others don’t and Managing with Power: Politics and Influence in Organizations.

Published by Dominique O'Rourke

Public Affairs professional, City Councillor, MA Leadership graduate, problem solver and lifelong learner.

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