$1 For Your Thoughts: How Direct Is Your Ask?

One of the best of many benefits that come with living in New York City is that you can get an education at any time, anywhere and from anyone.

Case in point: Last week I was walking near Grand Central Station and passed two people on the sidewalk, both asking for money. Each let a sign do the talking and kept silent. Both managed to write something I’d never seen, which says a lot for their creativity. Every New Yorker is sure they’ve seen and heard every possible variant on the classic ask: ‘spare some change?’

(And let’s face it, how many others are there, really?)

The first fellow had written: ‘This sign says whatever you need it to say so you will help me.

That was clever, charming even. He showed empathy for his audience and even tugged on my heartstrings. Not only that, he managed to be deferential while making a request, and he even offered choice. It was a very considerate pitch. I gave him a dollar.

A few blocks on, I approached a woman whose sign was the raw essence of the ask: ‘Please give $1.’ Not at all pushy, but you can’t be more direct than that. Her sign made it easy for me to execute and achieve a result. That requires some empathy, too. So I complied.

Before I’d reached Grand Central I was wishing I could circle back with those two at the end of the day and see how well they’d done, especially compared to each other.

Who do you think raised more money? Based on my own experience, I’m betting $1 lady came out ahead.

Why? Because it’s much easier for people to do what you ask of them when you’re specific. With a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ proposition it’s easier to pull the trigger than when you have to make it through unspoken, subsidiary questions.

The clever, charming sign-holder wasn’t so simple. I had to determine to give or not. Then, if I wanted to give, I then had to ask, ‘how much?’ Ugh. On a cold day in Manhattan, with fellow pedestrians breathing down my neck, that’s too much to think about.

Lucky for him, I was a soft touch that day. But I’ll bet it was otherwise for many pedestrians on their way to tough meetings, running on insufficient coffee or just generally struggling to keep up with the pace of a NYC morning rush hour.

Considering how touchy the ask can be, we all need to maximize opportunities to get a yes. It won’t work every time, but asking for exactly what you want does make your prospect’s job easier. At the least, it respects your time as well as theirs.

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