Goins, Writer

On Writing, Ideas, and Making a Difference

Does It Really Not Hurt to Ask?

Have you ever said, “Doesn’t hurt to ask” and meant it? Do you really think that’s true?

Hurts to Ask

Photo credit: Morgan (Creative Commons)

Of course, it hurts to ask. What a stupid thing to say. It can hurt a lots to ask. If you do it:

  • in the wrong way
  • at the wrong time
  • to the wrong person

Whoever said it doesn’t hurt to ask has never been turned down for a date. They’ve never made an offer someone could refuse. So if this is you, let me tell you: it hurts to ask.

That’s what makes asking so scary and so risky. There is something we can lose: our honor, our self-respect, even relationship with that person. It’s supposed to hurt to ask; that’s what makes permission so valuable.

Okay, so what does this mean for us bloggers and artists and entrepreneurs? A few things:

  1. Learn to ask in the right way. In other words, get permission. If want to sell digital products, ask people first to subscribe to your email list. Start a conversation before you start pitching. Get people to download a free mp3 sampler before you ask them to buy the whole album. This is about attention. Don’t demand or expect it; earn it.
  2. Discern the right and wrong times to ask. In other words, use your brain. Pay attention. Are you making people comfortable? Are you affirming their struggles? Build a relationship before you start asking for things. Treat every meeting, every phone call, every email as an opportunity. And don’t take a single one for granted.
  3. Don’t ask the wrong person. Who is that, you say? I’ll tell you who: a perfect stranger. We don’t pay attention to people we don’t know or trust. Invest in the relationship, and save the asking for later. Sometimes you only have to wait an hour, but the reward is worth it (like selling a product after you speak at a conference, for example). You know you’re asking the right people and when they’re coming to you.

This isn’t about selling products or getting published, by the way. It’s about people and how we’re all wired. Everything comes down to trust. Whether you’re a plumber or a painter or somebody who works in a cubicle, you have to get people to trust you.

So how do we do this without becoming sleazy, multi-level marketers? Easy. Do what all humans do: build a relationship. Use every interaction to give someone (i.e. a customer, a friend, a fan) another reason to believe you, to want to listen.

Do that — and never violate the understood permission it entails — and you’ll be set.

And if that doesn’t work, spend time helping someone and then don’t ask for anything in return. Serve your way into influence. When the moment is right, you can ask. But maybe then, you won’t have to.

What do you think? Does it hurt to ask? What are some examples? Share in the comments.

About Jeff Goins

I write books and help writers get their work out into the world. I am the best-selling author of four books, including The Art of Work. Each week, I send out a newsletter with free tips on writing and creativity.

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  • Marilynluinstra

    Thanks for the early-morning training. You are like a coach I
    know, first one at the club, fresh shaven and ready with the tailored-training
    program posted and, more important, intuition, the right word or slap on the
    back. He knew how to move people.

  • Very wise, Jeff!  I’ve been listening to this advice for quite a while, and it works, guys! Not only has it helped me grow my dream, but I’ve developed true friendships with some incredible people in the process. That is worth far more than anything else I could want from any of them.

    The one thing I’d add…when you actually do the asking in a new relationship, ask for less than you’ve given.

  • This is hard for me to do.  I know it stems from a lack of confidence.  However…the giving and serving others is something I can do and like doing.  I really enjoy the connections and relationships I am forming from giving and not wanting anything in return.  

    • What’s hard… the asking? If you do the service part, you may not have to ask.

  • You are asking me to use my brain? That does hurt. Great thoughts, Jeff.

  • I’ve said “It doesn’t hurt to ask” many times. I’ll never think about it the same way again! 🙂

  • I  have always been one of those, “They can’t say ‘Yes’ if you don’t ask” kind of people, but  guess I didn’t think enough about HOW I ask…great reminder about knowing our place and making our case, Jeff!

    • Yep. How you ask matters. Think about the last time a telemarketer called you.

  • ChadMillerBlog

    I love your statement, “Serve your way into influence.” It reminds me of filling others buckets. Some say making deposits.
    Filling/depositing more than I withdrawal builds incredible value and permission.
    You’re a great example of this, Jeff. Thanks for your consistency.

  • What I appreciate about this advice is that I know you lead by example.  I have a tendency to avoid asking, to avoid putting people in the uncomfortable position of saying “no”. But making people comfortable first, make a yes easier, brilliant idea.

  • Great post! Reminds me of the old Canfield & Hansen book The Aladdin Factor: when we don’t ask, “No” is the only possible answer. 

    I “just asked” last night rather than assuming a “No”…and this morning, I got a far more generous “Yes!” than I’d even hoped for. They’re excited, and now I’m even MORE excited than I was originally. 

    It’s worth the “no”s to get to “Yes!”

  • Great points.

    My friend and I have been writing this zombie story (kinda random, I know) but it’s about us and our families, and is a little bit unrealistic at times… But I was just randomly mentioning it to a friend of mine the other day, and he got so excited about it that he asked if I wouldn’t mind turning it into a comic book (he and his friends are starting a comic book production company). I didn’t even have to ask… I was just talking about something I enjoy. It kind of blew me away, but then again, we’ve been friends for at least three months now. I’d mentioned the story to him before (he reminds me of one of my characters) and he just kinda chuckled.

    You’re onto somethin’, Jeff. I kinda wish I could carry a little miniature version of you around in my pocket to help me with writing and other aspects of daily living.

  • Jeph

    I hurt just THINKING about asking lots of times.  The thought of putting myself in a position of vulnerability – relying on someone’s response in some way – can cause me stress.  It’s so much easier to retreat some times.

    • yeah, Jeph. asking isn’t always easy. but it can bring good results.

  • AlyciaN

    While I totally agree that sometimes we need to wait until the right “moment” or “relationship” to ask (assuming you are meaning something that is self-serving) I also think it is human nature to introduce our own insignificance and miss out on opportunities.

    I also feel if you look at another person as a method to serve yourself and build a relationship based on future endeavors, this will come across in the final act as the defining moment of the supposed relationship.

    I think that if we find someone that we want on our side, we should make it clear what the perimeters of the “relationship” would be. I further that thought with beginning to believe in who we are or what we are as significant and have the confidence to be bold in our expectations.

    The most essential part is the balance between self-serving and promotion of our significance. Yes, you must have a trusting relationship in order for the cross promotions to work, but how can you build that trust if you have an agenda from the beginning?

  • StaceyHume

    I love this.  And it is so TRUE! 

  • It hurts to ask when we’ve built relationships on false pretenses. And, it hurts to be asked when find out our relationships are not what we’d hoped. 

    So, asking serves as a kind of “gut-check” for integrity and honesty…

  • I think it’s important to remember the difference between “it doesn’t *hurt* to ask,” and “you won’t know if you don”t ask.”

    I try not to tell people it won’t hurt to ask, for the same reasons you outline above, but often times asking is the only way to find out what you need to know about a situation.

  • Scurrior

    As usual, I enjoy reading as your mind works. It’s fun to watch the gears move.

    RE: “asking” – Recognize  the difference between “request” and “inquiry”. 

    I do some work with Red Cross Disaster response. When we come across an injury or a place where people may be trapped, we don’t form relationships before we ask. In cases like this or if someone is obviously in emotional pain, it hurts “NOT” to ask.
    But with inquiry, we’re asking “for” something. Without relationship (the foundation of transparency) asking may be the prelude to attack. The “other” has no historic frame of reference from which to judge.  Even if we’re just asking for directions, civility, respect, openness – forming at least a minimal level of trusting relationship first is mandatory.

    • Cheryl Miller

      Interesting thoughts!  I’ve been working in — and teaching — EMS and disaster response for years, and quite literally we establish relationship very fast in order to work with folks who need us.  We are asking ‘for’ the opportunity to help and one of the most important and difficult things to teach young EMS folks is that they are ASKING and not just assuming that the answer is always an unqualified yes. Except in the most dire (e.g. unconscious) cases, we leverage our demeanor, our uniforms, our equipment — and those first words…to gain us that modicum of acceptance to continue. Then we are perhaps “serving into influence” afterwards.  So much of what Jeff said is apropos there: ” Are you making people comfortable? Are you affirming their struggles?”  That is exactly how we build relationship (in 3 minutes or less) in the field 🙂

      • Scurrior

        Cheryl – I agree. In emergency situations “Hi. My name is ___. Are you OK?” is enough to open the door. Then act (or not) as answers dictate.
        AND – in most cases online interactions like Jeff describes are not life or death. 
        Jeff’s timeline of slowly building relationship leading to establishing a level of historical trust which THEN can result in a foundation sturdy enough to ask permission are dead on.

  • Tarek stock

    Yeah that’s true !! it does hurt to ask ,but sometimes it is an obligation ,it’s simply now or  never,even if you have such doubts about the person ,the time and everything else you are facing,a lack of confidence !! you just have to ask !! you’ll learn a lot because of it,i mean asking in such a condtion !! most important thing to learn is that people are different,your point of view wouldn’t certainly be mine !,same thing for those who are going to hurt you and turn you down !! I just want to say everything is relative especially when it comes to manners between us !

  • I’m a designer by day and a DJ by night. I get asked almost weekly for free services either DJ or Design. It’s normally friends, but sometimes it’s friends of friends. The worst thing is when I drive someplace for a design meeting and the client is super excited about their new project, they spend an hour detailing it for me, and then they say, “We have no budget.” I always want to tell them that I don’t go to the grocery store, load up my cart and then says, “I have no money” and then expect to get the groceries for free. These requests do hurt – they hurt my relationship with people because when they don’t value my time or my skills then I feel like they don’t value me. 

  • I think you have been a great example of this. You can’t ask until you have built the relationship and invested in it. Serving someone is always a great way to start.

    However, I think many people have invested the time and effort and then never ask because they are afraid of the no. At some point, you have to be willing to step out on a limb and ask if you have built the relationship. Then, the worst thing they can do is say no, and you have to be willing to accept it if they do. Great advice, as always!

  • soulstops

    you model what you write and teach…I think it all boils down to really caring about another person and his/her story…thanks, Jeff 🙂

  • Asking is one of those things in life that is either going to make you or break you. You will either get a positive reaction or a negative reaction. In my opinion, asking is always worth the risk because getting a positive reaction is extremely rewarding and can lead to long-term benefits.

  • Nope. I have read it twice. Ask what? 

  • An often missed area covered well here. I know this is true from experience – for example, I asked you if I could interview you for my blog (twice) and you have said yes. I asked if I could guest post for this site and you said yes, and guest posted a post from me. But I’ve also submitted guest posts for this and other sites and had them turned down – and it hurts when you get turned down.

    It hurts when you ask and aren’t successful. But you learn a lot from it – I did, and continue to. Thanks for sharing this.

  • Wow, Jeff, great insight. I think it does hurt to ask. It’s risky and even frightening to put yourself out there and ask. Thanks for your perspective and insight.

  • I’m reminded of the adage, “Better to ask forgiveness than permission”, which I’ve never agreed with on an intellectual basis, but which I practiced often as the teenager to an overly strict parent.

    Another way to think about “asking correctly” is in the way a dialogue is built. If there is an exchange of enthusiasm and flow of ideas, the asking won’t always be necessary. 

    As an example in my own life, I offered someone I respected, who seemed to be struggling with too many projects, what I could do to help… & walked away with both a new friend as well as a paid position. I wasn’t looking for either. Just saw someone in need & legitimately wanted to lighten the load. Because she had already earned my trust, she didn’t have to ask for my help; likewise, because I earned hers via my thoughtful offer, I didn’t have to ask for a job. And neither of us had to ask for the surprising friendship that grew from there.

    I guess what I mean to say is, be considerate to others in your sphere of influence, and you never know what positive things will come of it. 

  • MichelleBentham

    Hi Jeff, I really like what you’ve shared here. It has been almost a year since I heard the Lord say to step out and sell the artwork I create in order to fund His ministry, but I didn’t have a clue about how or who or for what price to sell the things I had done. So, I asked how… He said, “Give it away until it sells.” And I did. Over the last year I’ve begun to sell paintings and God is showing me other things, too. I appreciate the confirmation and the encouragement to stay in it. It so agrees with what the Lord has been showing me in my journey. God Bless! M

  • “Serve your way into influence” – that’s the example of the greatest teacher ever, isn’t it? We know it works in relationships, but I’m still pondering how to make it work in my small (miniscule, really) business.

  • Carmenwilkes

    I do some fund raising for our summer swim team and I always say ” what can they say no so I am not afraid to ask. I will think about them feeling uncomfortable, the next time I do a fundraiser. 

  • I asked a family member (well, an in-law really) for something professionally and she said no. (An in-law; it figures, right?) Of course it hurt, and it did cause some tension for a while in our family, but you know what? I got over it. I’m not emotionally scared. I’m not walking around with a scarlet letter on my chest so the world knows I was scorned. (Although now more people know…) The point is, even if someone denies you something you want, and even if it hurts, the pain doesn’t last forever and you move on. You may even learn something from the process of asking. (Like don’t ask an in-law for help!) Or, seriously, like better timing, or better phrasing of your request.

  • It does hurt to ask. 
    I spend a lot of energy writing what I am going to ask and how I plan to ask it! 
    Thank you, Jeff for realizing the effort of the “asking”. 

  • My wife asks and it hurts … me!

  • I love the authenticity of this post. Because you are so right. It DOES hurt to ask.

    • thanks, Dionna. Well, it CAN, anyway.

  • I think a lot of people are afraid to ask for anything, because of what they percieve a negative answer would imply about themselves. Like your example, if you ask someone on a date, and they say no, you can take it pretty hard.

    So the safer option is to not ask to begin with. People, myself included, tend to associate this with the rest of their lives as well. If we ask someone anything, we run the risk of hearing something we don’t want to hear, so to protect our ego, we don’t ask at all.

    But there are a possibly a million little reasons why someone would say no that has nothing to do with you personally. Taking the example of a date, the person may have been having a bad day, they may already be with someone else, or they may simply not view you in such a light. No big deal, all around. But a lot of people would take the negative response and equate it with, “I’m a loser/not attractive/terrible with the opposite sex/all of the above.”

    It’s the same with writing. Ask someone to read your work. They don’t like it. It doesn’t mean you’re a terrible writer. It may just mean that your stuff isn’t up their alley. Or maybe they would like it with some small improvements. That’s all.

    But because some people are afraid of what they think the “no” means, they never bother asking in the first place. It’s a shame.

    • penna

      Which goes along with the thought that “You won’t know until you ask.” One just has to realize that no is a possibility and accept that possibility will create less opportunity to hurt, but I think a moment of hurt is a lot better than a lifetime of regret.

      • The “other” has no historic frame of reference from which to judge. https://Zap21.com

      • That’s certainly true. The problem is that, a lot of the time, it boils down to the moment. Yeah, I know I’ll regret not asking that girl out tomorrow, but right now, I’m too terrified to make a move. It’s rough.

  • ria

    haha I actually rather have people say no then to keep me hanging. In the case of a no I can then switch to a plan B!

    Nothing irks me more than people wasting my time by beating around the bush. Making people comfortable is one thing but being a doormat is another. Sometimes I feel as if I am being way too nice to people and then I feel taken advantage of but that has got to stop. I would love it if you did a post about that! (or I would love to do one as well 😉 ) 

    After all, there is a difference between making people comfortable and letting them walk all over you! 

  • I love the emphasis on relationship. That makes all the difference in the world.

  • nick

    Trust always works, and I believe sincerity builds trust like nothing else. Just be sincere in your interactions with people and you will quickly notice that asking is no longer scary!

  • growing up as a missionary kid and believer, no got a little mixed up with unkindness and  selfishness and rejection.  my husband, who is exceedingly comfortable saying no, exposed me to this truth. that saying no is not equal to  ‘bad’ and taking no ‘personally’ is a choice.  that has freed me to not pick up so much needless baggage on my journey.

  • It’s definitely true that asking can hurt, but I know that my mind bloats the potential pain of rejection. If you ask in the right way—trust yourself to make that connection, take steps one at a time—then most people will respect the effort and risk you’re taking.

    But you’re absolutely right that asking shouldn’t be the first item on the agenda. Many people are very concerned with the outcome rather than the substance of an interaction. To me, saying that asking hurts can be damaging. It’s already so hard to overcome the fear, and things often turn out better than we’d expect. But it’s important to get your priorities in line first. To me, it’s not so much what you’re asking or who you’re asking, as why you’re asking the question in the first place.

  • Mikefischer620

    Nice one Jeff!” Serve your way into influence. When the moment is right, you can ask.” Well said!