Do you know how to ask? 3 steps to get the best response.

Photo of woodcarved question marksDo you know how to ask?

Your mother taught you to always say Please and Thank You. And that’s a good thing, of course.

But, assuming you want the best, most useful response to your ask, there’s a bit more to it than that!

1. What do you want?

All too often people make vague, unclear requests that require the recipient to make a guess or an assumption about what’s actually needed.

“Please review this document – thanks!”

You know exactly what you want, but the recipient of this request has no way to know if you’re looking for a quick proofreading scan, or an in-depth editorial and fact-checking review.

Define the result you want very clearly. Double-check to make sure you’re not expecting someone to read your mind.

2. When do you need it?

“Please review this document – thanks!”

No clue there when it’s needed. Five minutes or five days from now? If you need it in five days, but the person you asked thinks you need it right away, they may unnecessarily drop everything to get it done. On the other hand, if you need it in five minutes but they think tomorrow would be fine – well – you’re not going to get what you want, they’ll feel bad, and everyone’s time will be wasted.

You’ll save time and avoid frustration if you specify a deadline.

3. Are they the right person?

If you know someone isn’t a great writer, don’t ask them to edit your document.

If they don’t understand technology, don’t ask them for help figuring out why your computer isn’t talking to your printer.

If they drive a tiny car, don’t ask them to car-pool your daughter’s soccer team.

These are obvious examples. In real life, it gets a lot more subtle. I’ve been burned several times by asking for feedback from people who, while lovely people I’m happy to call friends, didn’t have the right frame of reference for what I needed. You get very well-intentioned, but really bad, feedback in that situation, and it can take you down some very wrong paths before you discover your mistake.

We tend naturally to reach out to the nearest person, or to someone we trust to respond willingly. But that may not be the right person for the specific request we need to make. So ask yourself if the person you want to ask has the right mindset, attention to detail, frame of reference, and tools to complete the task.

And then be clear about what you’re asking for, and when you need it done.