Over lunch today at Secret Recipe, one of my mentees asked me, “How do you get so many diverse women entrepreneurs to be on your podcast?”
Without batting an eye, I replied, “I ask.”
It seems like a simple answer but it is an answer that I had trouble with when I was younger. It didn’t help that as a child, I was introverted; I would rather spend my day hiding in my bedroom and read until my mum reminded me that it was dinner time or bedtime! At family gatherings, I would shy away from talking to my aunts and uncles.
What a difference a few decades make! I’m a shameless asker now 😉
Many people have trouble asking because they fear inconveniencing the other party, getting a no (which means rejection and feeling bad), feeling inadequate about asking and don’t know how to put the right words into the right request.
My late mum taught me that if you’re lost, you better ask for directions. She never went to university but she was street smart, ballsy and stubborn. She was never one to shy from asking people if she didn’t know. She was often exasperated with my dad because he would never ask for directions even if he were lost!
(And that is why to this day, he still shudders at driving in Petaling Jaya with its mazes of street names that all end in numbers that make no sense and I remind him that we now have an app called Waze which helps us if we are lost but that is another story for another day!).
As I started entering the workforce and later, joined my husband in the business, I realized that mum was right. If I didn’t open up to ask, no one would know that I needed help. And since that realization, I have become a fearless asker if there’s such a term.
I also had to reframe what I used to think about asking as bugging others or making other people’s lives difficult. Asking is not inconveniencing others if you ask the right people. It also gives others a chance to be of service! When someone helps you, he or she is flooded with feel-good vibes especially if it’s the right ask at the right time, positioned as a win-win proposition.
According to Tannya D. Jajal, “neuroscience has demonstrated that giving is a powerful pathway for creating more personal joy. Helping others triggers impacts to our brain in many positive ways. When we help others, our brains release oxytocin, serotonin and dopamine. These hormones have the effect of boosting our mood and counteract the effect of cortisol (the stress hormone).”
I ask people that I know and people that I don’t. More often than not, people are willing to help and send me off in the right direction.
The key to others helping you is to transform the ask in a way that is win-win for us both. Most askers just want something for themselves. How about asking so that the both of us can get something together?
And if you are genuine, respectful and open about what you need, many will come to your aid. (It helps to tell them WHY you are asking.) Sometimes, you will come across one or two people who will not help you no matter what and that’s OK. Part of the asking is getting rejected but learn why you got rejected and move on.
The world is filled with empathetic people who will help you because they can. Not because they have to but because they want to and there is an infinite pleasure in helping others and if you’ve read this far, I hope you’re nodding in agreement.
Ask and doors will open for you. Ask with grace and humility and more doors will open. Be prepared for people saying no as well. Take it as part and parcel of the process of learning how to ask and ask better next round.
In the early days of my podcast, I asked friends who said yes without hesitation (tip #1: asking the right people, remember?). Later, I asked them for more friends and since they had such a good time on my podcast, they started referring friends to me (tip #2: make it a great experience so they too will feel their friends are taken care of when they refer others to you).
When I needed someone from a specific country, I asked myself, “Whom do I know who is in that country and can refer a credible podcast guest?” I keep asking and asking until I get to the Asian women entrepreneurs that I need.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the power of the ask.
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