Just Ask, the Answer Might be YES

how to be successful by asking questions by alisonsmith.com

What sets a successful person, who seems to always get what they want, apart from someone who feels like they have no control over their life? What makes a person strive for bigger and better experiences, while others remain resolved to be happy with what they get?

Is it luck? Do some people just have a special personality? Are some people meant to be successful while others are left behind?

I’ve been wondering lately: What type of action do successful people take to drive their lives toward their desires?

I think there are a myriad of actionable behaviours that successful people do on a consistent basis. But, today, I want to focus in on the act of asking, ‘does it really have to be this way?’ I believe that successful people have formed a skill to ask for what they need, and to ask if their present circumstances have to remain the same or can they change. It doesn’t mean that they will always get what they are asking for, but they ask anyway — no matter how insignificant the issue or desire is.

I’ve been having this very conversation with many friends over the last couple of months. A few of my friends have said how frustrated they are at work, or how stuck they feel. And, sometimes, we come to the conclusion that their issue can be remedied by simply asking for what they need, and posing that question to the right person.

I feel that many people drift on the tide of someone else’s agenda, and they’re ending up very unhappy because of it. Most are just not standing up for what they need because they don’t feel strong enough to do so, or they’re afraid to be perceived as being selfish, demanding, or difficult.

Why do people, especially women, feel so uncomfortable about asking for what they need — not matter how small?

If you’re assertive, does that make you a bitch?

I’ve heard more than once that if a man stands up for himself, he’s deemed as assertive or a leader, but when a woman stands up for herself, she’s a bitch. Yes, that maybe the case. Our actions are regularly scrutinized and dictated by public perception of our behavior. But, here’s what successful women will tell you: It doesn’t matter if someone looks at you as a bitch. You know that you wouldn’t hurt anyone, and you know that simply asking a question will not bull-doze over anyone.

I truly believe that if you stand-up for yourself with kindness, others will still look upon you as difficult, selfish, or even a bitch, but, in my experience, people who judge and name-call are actually the ones that don’t have enough courage to stand-up and go for what they want in their lives. They are too timid to ask for what they need. So, it’s easier to call you a derogatory name to make themselves feel better about their inaction.

I would rather be a bitch than unsuccessful and unhappy. I know that I love to treat people with respect and gratitude, and I would never belittle anyone’s pride. Let the name callers keep calling names, and I will keep sending them love.

If you ask for what you need, will people get angry?

Here’s what I’ve observed, since I started to stand-up for myself 14 years ago. The person who you ask the question to doesn’t get angry: this includes your boss, superior, project manager, authoritative figure, or person standing in your way. So, the question receiver doesn’t respond emotionally to a question. You are just asking a question, and the answer could be yes or no.

The people, however, who do get angry are the ones that didn’t have enough courage to ask a question themselves. Once your colleagues start to see that you are shifting your daily experience in your favor, by asking for what you need, some will definitely get miffed. It has nothing to do with you, and everything to do with them.

What questions should I be asking?

Well, this is really up to you. When you are told that something has to be a certain way, and you think to yourself, ‘does it have to be this way?’, I think that’s a perfect time to ask the question, to the right person — always with kindness and respect.

If you are perplexed by something, or your current situation doesn’t make sense or it doesn’t make you feel good, you can ask the questions that you need answered. To do this, you have to get past the fact that your boss, doctor, or authoritative figure can make you tongue tied because they’re in a position of power. I call bullshit on that. People are people. You have the right to say what needs to be said, with kindness and self-empowerment. You don’t have to be abrasive or aggressive in any way. Ask the questions that need to be asked, and get the info or outcome that you need to be successful.

Again, the answer to your question can be yes or no. Keep striving for what you want, and sometimes you’ll definitely get it.

Possible outcomes

In my experience, there are two repercussions to merely asking a question — especially to someone who is your superior, like your boss, project manager, or authority figure.

1. It feels really awkward when you first start. We are conditioned to stay silent, and to do what we’re told — especially if you’re a woman. It is deemed socially rude to even gently stand-up for yourself. But, I assure you, this is just a cultural perception. We think that we’re being rude or bossy, when in actuality, we are not being rude at all. We are simply asking a question. And, if you don’t ask the question, you will definitely not get what you want — no matter how small the desire is. Most of the time, we rely of other people to form our daily experience. We’re at work most of the day, surrounded by people; most of you have bosses, dictating what your work experience will be like; we have managers coordinating our daily schedules. There is so much of our day that we have no control over, but there are some instances when a mere question can tilt the balance in your favor.

2. You may observe that the people around you will become agitated by your act of asking a question, especially if it results are favorable for you. Most people are too scared, themselves, to ask the question that needs to be asked. And, those people will be angry that you have gathered up enough courage to be assertive. If there are unsuccessful, upset, depressed, and anxious people around you, they will want you to feel exactly the same as they do. They don’t want you to feel empowered. They don’t want you to be chosen for a promotion or singled out for praise. If you become assertive, even in a gentle way, with kindness and respect, you will still ruffle the feathers of your colleagues and other people in your life that were not strong enough to speak up. You need to make a decision: are you living to make other people happy? Or are you living to build a life based on your own desires? This is certainly not to say that you will live a selfish and unfeeling existence. No…standing up for yourself can still be filled with kindness, love, and excitement for yourself and everyone else that surrounds you. This is not selfish success, this is soulful success.

3. By asking small, seemingly insignificant, questions, you will begin to feel as if you have some control over your life’s experience. You will no longer feel as if you are operating at the whim of everyone else around you. You’re definitely not going to get everything that you ask for, but the act of asking will start to make you feel stronger, and this will ultimately drive you in a more successful direction — in which ever way you define what success is for yourself. Successful people are in the driver’s seat, not the passengers’.

A real world example…

I have two real world examples of the power of merely asking the question, and experiencing the results.

1. When someone tells you to shut-up.

Years ago, I was a graduate student at a school that took me 2-hours to get to in the morning, and 3-hours to get home at night. I was in my first year of doctoral studies, and it was hell — the commute was killing my spirit, and I wanted to quit. At the time, I was a cadaver lab instructor, to make extra cash, and I had to arrive on campus, once a week at 7:30 am, to get debriefed on that week’s anatomy lab lesson, by the head of the department. Arriving at that time was difficult, so I thought to myself, ‘I need to ask for a change here’. I knew the lesson matter quite well, already. And, I wasn’t gaining any knowledge in the weekly debriefings, so I asked to either have a phone meeting with my boss or arrive at a later time to come into the lab, by myself to plan my lessons. I knew it was a long-shot, but I asked anyway.

What’s the worst that could happen? You could be told no…but you could also be told yes.

Well, I was told no, which I wasn’t upset about. I knew it was a possibility that the answer could be no. But, I asked the question anyway. I stood up for myself, and attempted to make my situation better.

Here’s the not-so-surprising result. The other person I was working with, who was also a lab instructor, said to me that I shouldn’t ask questions like that. I shouldn’t ask to be accommodated at all. I looked at this person and thought, this is the reason why people, especially women, don’t feel like they have a right to make their lives better. I wasn’t surprised, but I was definitely angry by someone else telling me what I could and couldn’t do. But, then I realized…perhaps they were angry with me because they weren’t able themselves to stand-up for their desires. They believed that I should shut-up because they couldn’t speak. Once that realization hit, my anger evaporated. And, in essence, being told to shut-up just made me louder. From that moment of realization, I’ve never been concerned with how other people feel about me standing up for my life, my health, or my work experience no matter how insignificant the issue may be.

2. Asking goes beyond your work environment. You can use the power of questions in any situation.

When I became incredibly sick in 2006, during my first year of doctoral studies, I had to go into self-protection mode. I could barely function; I was in so much pain; I had difficulty staying awake. I had to ask for help. I didn’t know what was wrong with me. I didn’t find out that I had Lyme Disease until 2011 — 5 crazy long years into the battle.

I asked my supervisor for help to find a closer lab to my house, so that I could do my doctoral work without having to commute 5 hours per day to school. His answer was, yes, and I was able to complete my PhD — even though the going was really tough. Think about it; if I didn’t ask the question, I would have had to quit graduate school.

Also, all throughout my illness I repeatedly asked my family physician to refer me to specialist after specialist to get a clear diagnosis. I demanded, in a kind and persistent way, to be heard and to get help. When I heard about Lyme Disease, I asked to be tested, even though my specialist at the time said I wouldn’t find any answers in the blood test. I was persistent with kindness, and boy did she turn out to be wrong!

I used my ability to ask questions to help me ultimately recover from Lyme Disease, 9-years later. If I didn’t ask the question, I wouldn’t have my health back today.  Asking questions, is really a form of asking for help. We all need help from time-to-time, and you deserve to ask for it, too.

What asking a question will do for you.

Asking really small questions that explore the concept of, ‘does it really have to be this way?’ can change your life. Just give it a try, and let the evidence tell you otherwise.

Now, over to you…

Do you have trouble asking questions that mean a lot to you? What is your fear telling you? Leave a comment below.

3 Comments on “Just Ask, the Answer Might be YES

  1.  by  Ola Salah

    I found your comment about the difference between male and female assertiveness interesting. I have spent a long time feeling the way others think of me is important, and for a long time what people thought of me defined who I was for me. Because I thought that people should always be happy with my actions and work I never thought to ask for what I want from them, so that I don’t rock the boat so to speak. I don’t believe I’m alone in this, because from the many conversations I had with women my age we always agree on this point. Once you start defining who you are to yourself it becomes easier to ask for what you want as well as to say no. You know your power, limit and needs and can decide for yourself what works for you and what doesn’t, which leads to learning to stand up for yourself. Thank you for this post, it definitely hit home for me. : )

    •  by  admin

      Wow, Ola…when you described your realization that you never thought to ask for what you want from other people, it made me have goose-bumps! I love, love, love hearing about moments when a person learns something new about themselves. It happens so rarely because most of the time we don’t take the time to be introspective or we’re too afraid of what we’ll find. I commend you for giving this topic some thought, and I’m really happy that you read my post — I really appreciate that : ) Keep on shining!

  2.  by  David Zent

    Have enjoyed ang agreed with most every article on your blog so far, Alison. Thank you for thinking through and sharing your thoughts on these difficult topics, which are stumbling blocks to many, or even outside of their realm of consideration altogether. I’m a stage 4 throat cancer survivor who has sought the best sites for information and inspiration, in the hopes of enlightening myself that I too may enlighten others, you inspire ME!

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