Ask For What You Want

Questions This Guidance Answers: 
  • Should I ask or tell my directs what I want them to do?
  • What should I say to make my directs do what I want them?
  • How do I make sure they answer?

This guidance recommends asking your directs for work to be done - meaning requesting things in the form of a question - rather than stating your desire for something to occur.

Most managers, when they need something done, tell their directs what to do. Telling relies on role power. It works, but there's a better, more strategic way: asking.

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Compliance vs. Commitment

Listened to this podcast on the way to work this morning, and thought "How do you tell the difference between compliance and commitment?"

I believe that compliant directs will respond to your request (likely posed as a statement / demand) with "ok"

Committed directs will respond to your request (likely posed as a question) with "Yeah - sure!" (or along those lines).

My humbling experience has been that the directs that leave you with an "ok" will return to get your compliance at every roadblock encountered - slowing the process significantly. 

Beware the "OK"s!

DISC: 1377

Please tell me, don't ask me... unless I can say no.

I am a big fan and have been on board with the vast majority of your content.  This podcast, ASK FOR WHAT YOU WANT, didn't quite resonate with me.

When I was a kid, my mom would ASK me to do the dishes or clean my room or take out the trash.  It always bugged me because she wasn't REALLY asking and I knew it.  If I had said no (which I did occasionally), she would say, "Do the dishes... now!"  So I do the dishes and then she would thank me... which drove me crazy because "thank you" didn't seem appropriate when I felt I had no choice in the matter that would not result in a grounding.

As a result of the early life annoyance, I have always TOLD (without being a jerk) direct reports the things I am not willing to have them say no to and ASKED them when "no" was an acceptable answer.  I would feel disingenuous asking for work that I was requiring.

As a direct report, when I have a boss ask me for work when it isn't really a request, I have the same internal reaction of being asked to do the dishes.

In a scenario where I was TOLD to do something as a direct report, I might say, "My plate is pretty full; is this something that someone else can do or that can wait until...?" (No) "Okay, is it all right if I put off this other task to make room for this new one?"

I have no problem being on either end of this exchange (assuming reasonable person standards of objections) and it is not made better or worse being a response to a questions instead of a tell.

Having said all that, I MIGHT use a question to give some flexibility to an order, like, "I need you to do "project x".  Can you do this, today?"  (No)  "Okay, when can you do this?"

I don't know.  Thoughts?

Your brother and servant,


If your life is hard, you may be doing something wrong.  If your life is easy, you are DEFINITELY doing something wrong.

Roy, the point you raised

Roy, the point you raised regarding managers that phrase  direct orders in the form of questions (would you please do this? NO? Then do it as an order!) brings to mind the episode on offering feedback, because it also covered in some detail the reasoning behind asking.
In feedback, the manager asks: May I give you some feedback? To which sometimes people will reply "no."
What happens next is the critical point behind the theory of asking: the manager's acceptance that this person is not ready for feedback. Perhaps dismissing it, perhaps upset, perhaps busy or something else. But the manager asks for permission to deliver feedback because of a number of reasons, including making sure that the direct is ready to listen, asking for the direct's committed attention, politely positioning the manager as a mentor offering guidance.
My point in bringing this up is that a manager must be ready to accept the "no," albeit temporarily, and deal with it expertly. If the manager is not ready for a possible "no," then  the manager has not yet mastered the theory behind asking - be it asking for permission to provide feedback, or asking for people to make themselves available to perform a duty.
This episode as well as the one regarding offering feedback cover what to do to handle the "no." The main point is to respect that position, and address it as a valid concern to be dealt with.
In my personal experience, the result of the question is seldom a "no," instead an opportunity to bring to light any obstacles.

I'm with Roy What is the difference between this and delegation?

If both start with asking - how will the Direct know which is an assignment and which is a delegation ? - And which they can say "no" to ?

 I've heard both the 

"Ask for What you want" 

and the "Delegation" model both start with asking the Direct.

So I'm a little confused about which they can actually say no to.

Under Delegation, the Direct can say "no" and according to MT, we can let it slide a few times before we tell them that they are expected to say "yes" to Delegations.

-- But in this PodCast  -  it sounds like all task assigning is supposed to be asked.

But, I, as a manager, am not prepared to let general job assignments slide when requested.

"Would you please look over this spreadsheet and get back to me with comments this afternoon?"  -- that's an assignment.

If the Direct has a conflict, it is up to them to let me know why they can't comply to my request. Then we can talk about it.

Using a question, to me, is a polite and effective communication style.

And also just a plain old -   "Get this email to me by the end of the day , please."  Is just as good.


In the end it still comes down to the fact that : 

Directs are expected to say "yes" to assignments  and they are expected to say "yes" to Delegation.

Question - How will the Direct know the difference between the two ?

So -- I'm with Roy -- "Asking"  really just comes down to being an effective communication tactic - that usually works better than merely spouting orders about.

But - the Directs aren't fooled.  - They just appreciate the method - because it means we care.

Any illusion that is given to Directs that they can actually say "no" - without repercussions - is a polite fiction.

That's my take, anyway.