How to Ask for Anything

Making a big client pitch?  Need to ask your co-worker for a favour? Planning your case for a long overdue raise? Looking to light a fire in your employee and convince them to take on a new project?

Here’s a technique that’s so simple and effective, you can start using it immediately.

As part of a French study, PHDs decided to dress as beggars to see if they could affect how much money a total stranger would be willing to give someone on the street by including a few “specially encoded words” in their request. The results were astounding– and the formula for ‘how to ask for anything’ was revealed.

The magical “turn of phrase” they discovered not only “increased how much bus fare people give, but was also effective in boosting charitable donations and participation in voluntary surveys.” In fact, a recent meta-analysis involving over 22,000 participants concluded, “these few words, placed at the end of a request, are a highly effective way to gain compliance, doubling the likelihood of people saying “yes.”

So, next time you want to ask for something, try this:

At the end of your request, tack on what Dr. Jesse Schell, of Carnegie Mellon’s Entertainment Technology Center, calls the ‘wanna-hafta’ clause by ending on this sweet note:  “but you are free to accept or refuse.”

Those simple words, “but you are free to accept or refuse,” reaffirm our ability to choose, which makes us feel more in control and increases our willingness to help others. It’s the “difference between things we want to do and things you have to do.” Or as Schell points out, “the difference between work and play … slavery and freedom … efficiency and pleasure.”

Turns out, all we’re really looking for is a bit of autonomy. And, even better, you can effectively use the “but are you free” phrase on yourself too.

Schell believes keeping a healthy watch on your I-want-to-be-here meter is critical to enjoying your professional experience and staying motivated at work. He says that when we are ”faced with “haftas,” our brains register them as punishments so we take shortcuts, cheat, skip-out… in order to escape the discomfort of feeling controlled.” This can happen when you’re feeling micro-managed or, as is sometimes the case, when we’ve outgrown our current role and need a new challenge.

When it comes to work, we can all fall victims to “presenteeism” (the act of being at work physically while mentally absent and, in turn, unproductive). It’s important to take the time to periodically review your feelings of autonomy around your current situation. Am I where I want to be? Is this the role I’d choose? If the answer is no, exercise your freewill to change your less than desirable situation or, even better, ask for what you want by using this easy and effective technique.