Often, what we ask is not nearly as important as the way we ask. Ask the customer service rep if they’ll take back the widget you bought without the receipt you lost, and you’ll probably hear, “It’s against our policy.”
Ask, however, that “Understanding it’s against normal policy to return an item without the receipt, which I (said with a genuinely humble smile) somehow managed to lose, what’s the best way to go about doing this?” and you’ll most likely have that person on your side and seeking a solution, perhaps asking his or her supervisor for help.
The key is the frame you consciously set.
Reminds me of a clever “joke with a lesson” I heard several years ago:
Steve and Marty are talking, and Steve wonders whether it is okay to smoke while praying. Marty replies, “Why don’t you ask Clergy Smith?”
So Steve approaches his clergyman and asks, “May I smoke while praying?”
Clergyman Smith replies, “No, you absolutely may not. That’s utter disrespect to our religion.”
Steve goes back to his friend and repeats the answer.
Marty says, “I’m not surprised. You asked the wrong question. Let me try.”
And so, Marty approaches his spiritual leader and asks, “May I pray while smoking?”
To which the clergyman eagerly replies, “By all means, my son. You may pray anytime!”
Now, first, for the politically correct amongst us, no, I’m not endorsing smoking, either while praying or anytime else. However, the example illustrates the power of asking a question within a context or frame that is more likely to get you the result you want.
Do you think it would more effective to tell your team they “have to” follow a new procedure…or that they “get to” follow a new procedure that will make the system more effective?
Children are often excellent natural frame-masters. Johnny asks his dad if he can stay out an extra hour later tonight. Dad says, “Ask your mother.” (Hmm, Johnny’s dad and mine sound very similar.) 🙂 Johnny says to Mom, “Mom, I asked Dad if I can stay out an extra hour later tonight; he just wants your ‘okay’ first.”
Isn’t that a much more effective frame than simply asking, “Is it alright if I stay out an extra hour later tonight?”
In L. Michael Hall’s excellent book, Frame Games he tells us that “It’s all in the frame.” Wow, is he ever right! Especially when it comes to framing requests for persuasion success.