How To Get What You Want: Simple Tips To Reduce Chances Of Rejection
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How To Get What You Want: Simple Tips To Reduce Chances Of Rejection

At the start of our Unlocking Influence webinar, attendees completed a short quiz designed to measure how well they ask questions. Interestingly, only 12.5 per cent achieved the top ranking. What does this tell us? It tells us that there is work to be done with regards to how we ask questions.

Our Unlocking Influence webinar is a continuation of Unlocking Resilience. When we ask questions in the wrong way, we trigger a defensive response – fight, flight, freeze, or appease – that isn’t conducive to productive, positive conversations that can help us to get what we want and excel in our careers.

A case study

Consider this scenario:

A client of mine, whom we’ll call Andrea, was made aware there were upcoming promotions within her workplace. There were only two positions available, and she was third in line. Understandably, Andrea went to her boss and asked him, “Why am I number three?”

This was a perfectly reasonable question to ask. However, in business coaching one of the first things we’re taught is how to ask questions in a way that isn’t accusatory. Although you know your intentions, other people only know your actions or words. You might be asking “Why?” in a purely inquisitive manner, but to the receiver this might sound accusatory or aggressive, causing them to go into defence mode.

As we discussed in our resilience blog, these defence modes are fight, flight, freeze, or appease. In this case, Andrea got all four responses from her boss! Let’s explore what they might look like in action so we know what to recognise.

-1- Fight

The first thing Andrea’s boss said was that her position as number three was due to the fact that she hadn’t demonstrated a potential beyond her own team. In a business context, a fight response can look like assigning blame or pointing the finger.

-2- Freeze

Next, her boss shared some logical facts about why the people first and second in line for the promotion had been ahead of her. He didn’t provide any names or go into huge amounts of detail, rather he went into fact mode, as described in the freeze response. Emotion was removed because the conversation was uncomfortable.

-3- Appease

Her boss then said that whilst he thought very highly of her, the order of promotion was not solely his decision. This is what the appease response can look like in a business setting: reminding someone how great they are and suggesting that decisions not in their favour are the result of other people.

-4- Flight

The final thing Andrea’s boss did was to change the subject and ask for an update on a client. This is the flight response in action in the business world: moving the conversation to more comfortable ground and avoiding the issue.

In this example, we can see that one understandable question, “Why am I number three?” elicited all four defensive responses in quick succession.

How can we avoid this happening?

It’s not ideal to elicit a defensive reaction in someone, especially in a professional environment. It is, however, very common. I’d even go so far as to suggest that if every time we asked a question and we took notes of how the receiver responded, we’d probably notice they were responding with more than just one of the fight, flight, freeze or appease reactions.

The very first rule of asking questions, then, is this: don’t make the receiver defensive. To avoid making someone defensive, we should use “Why?” as little as possible. Questions like the one in the above example are backwards looking questions. A better question would have been a forward looking question, for example, “What needs to happen for me to become number two?”

Phrasing the question this way would have elicited a very different answer. Andrea’s boss wouldn’t have felt like he was being asked to comment on her failings, rather it was a good opportunity for him to give constructive, positive feedback. It’s always easier to give actionable advice than it is to tell someone their failings, and it’s better for us to hear, too.

Pressure-free asking

The best system of asking questions is the pressure-free asking system, which we share in our Unlocking Influence session. When we ask questions that are forward looking and pressure free, we open up the conversation, reduce the risk of being shut down, and initiate a dialogue that will help us receive a useful answer.

If we consider our case study again, it’s perfectly reasonable that Andrea asked why she was number three. But what she really wanted to know was why she wasn’t number two. Asking, “Why am I number three?” did not create an environment in which constructive feedback could be given that she could take away and action to become number two.

As with anything, practise makes perfect. I recommend practising in areas that are not of much consequence. The restaurant example I shared in my last post is a great example – we’ve all gone to a restaurant and been shown to a less than favourable table: by the toilets, next to a noisy group, or somewhere with a draught.

Some people might feel too uncomfortable to ask to be shown to a different table, but it’s unlikely we’ll receive the opportunities we deserve if we don’t have the confidence to ask. It’s not just asking, however, it’s how we ask. Pressure-free asking is framing the question in a way that encourages opening up a dialogue. It isn’t demanding, and it gives people options.

If this resonates with you, have a look at our upcoming sessions to see how we can help to unlock – and elevate – the potential in your workplaces.

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