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Conversion On The Road To "Damn! Ask Us!"

4paul1Commuting back and forth between Des Moines and Kansas City presents unique opportunities to observe the locals in rural settings.  Recently, at a Missouri gas station, I heard an agitated customer voicing that she was unable to find a specific item.  The clerk's response, as he pulled the item out from behind the counter, amused me, "Damn!  Ask us!  We always keep them back here."

Damn.  Ask us.

It's amazing how infrequently we ask questions to get what we want.  We'll tell people what we want (and then listen only for what we want to hear).  We'll make assumptions that the response will be negative so we don't ask at all.  We predestine that nobody would want to hear us anyway.  So we don't ask.  And we don't get.

Former First Lady, Eleanor Roosevelt, once said, "We see the world, not as it is, but as we are."  If we see the world as ripe with possibilities, then every question will yield a positive response (even if the response may not lead to the result for which we were hoping).  Jesus once said,  "Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you."  (Matthew 7:7, NIV)  When the Apostle Paul (then Saul of Tarsus) experienced his world-rocking conversion on the road to Damascus (ah...now you get the title pun), the conversation started out with questions... from both parties.

Right now, I'm trying to promote a new book.  I'm doing a lot of knocking, seeking, and asking.  Sometimes the responses are favorable.  Sometimes the door gets slammed back in my face.  Occasionally, there's no answer at all.  But it doesn't mean I've quit promoting.  I learned a lot about self-marketing since Race Through The Forest was released last year.  I can't rely on Amazon or my Publisher to do the work for me.  GUST is my product, and I'm the primary salesperson.  I believe that people want to manage their office politics challenges more effectively, and I want to help them do it.

I've come to the conclusion that the question is the most powerful yet under-used communication tool we have.  There's a statistic that project managers should spend 90% of their time in communication.  I'm curious how much of that time is spent telling vs. asking.  My most popular and requested speaking engagement is titled "What Your Project Team Isn't Telling You" and equips the audience to ask better questions of their project stakeholders.  A lot of the office politics issues that I resolve on the Office-Politics site could be averted by some proactive questions.

What do you want?  Is it a promotion?  A new job?  Information?  A date?  Some time?  Are you asking for it?  How are you framing your questions in such a way to set yourself up for success?


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Tom Haskins

Hey Tim: Glad to see you're a real roads scholar. While the road side is converting corn to ethanol, you're getting converted for life. Very cool! Here's some thoughts about asking questions: Heroes don't ask for directions, or any other questions, because it's a source of embarrassment, a sign of weakness or the appearance of incompetence. Tent makers and team players are free to ask proactive questions because they've outgrown their pride and conceit. The first (looking out for uno) became last in our lives and looking out for us now comes first. We found how humbling ourselves gets exalted, where exalting ourselves sucks big time. After all, there's no "I" in team and no ego that plays fair.

I've found it's much easier to ask questions of solid team players. Spongy team players want too much in return, don't take my question as intended and over-dramatize my switch from telling to asking. Asking a question of a solid team player returns respect, appreciation for asking, insights from other points of view and more common ground to rely upon. The shortage of proactive questions in the midst of tense office politics comes about from the appearance that the other person is not on the same team, sleeping with the enemy or selling out to the system of command & control. There's no indications of common ground to rely upon or getting respect in return.
Happy Trails

Lisa Gates

Hi Timothy,
You said:
[What do you want? Is it a promotion? A new job? Information? A date? Some time? Are you asking for it? How are you framing your questions in such a way to set yourself up for success?]

This lands in a place near and dear to me: take responsibility for the things you want present in your life. If you want to find a great partner, you have to be a great partner first. If you want some time, take some time.

I recently was interviewed on the subject of writer/client relations [posted it yesterday] and I think I could have said everything in two words: take responsibility.

Love your mind.


Hunter Arnold

"Damn. Ask us." sounds a lot like something I've always said to my employees:

"Don't ask, don't get."

What's the worst thing I can say as a manager? "No."

Of course, I will have my reasons for saying no - there are definitely some questions or requests that can be solved without asking for my input. The thought someone puts into asking for something truly impactful can often answer the question itself. However, coming to a manager with a thoughtful question or request will always yield more definitive results than not asking at all.

Timothy Johnson

Tom - I laughed at your "roads scholar" pun (but I guess I had that one coming). Yes, heroes and humility generally don't go hand-in-hand.

Lisa - your observation drives home the Eleanor Roosevelt quote. If we take responsibility for the outcomes and feel the accountability for bringing them to reality, we have a much greater shot of success. Thanks for joining the conversation.

Hunter - your comment reminds me of the advice I give colleagues and students when they are preparing for a job interview. Usually I'll field the question: "What questions will they ask me and how should I answer?" I simply respond by telling them they should be more concerned with the questions they will ask the employer and what answers they want to receive from that employer. Awesome insights.

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