Have you ever stopped and wondered what you might have got at certain times in your life – if only you had asked?
Literature, film and real life are sprinkled with regret about ‘the one that got away’ – the lingering feeling that a simple question that went unasked at a pivotal moment might have elicited a response or reaction that you really craved or needed.
There are plenty of examples, too, of people being brave enough to ask at times when things looked pretty bleak. I’ve written before about the origin of the phrase ‘chancing your arm’, which was effectively just a brave man asking for peace by thrusting his outstretched hand through a hole in a door, behind which his enemies huddled.
There are others where someone has simply had the nerve or presence of mind to ask – and they’ve got what they wanted. Everything from getting Iron Maiden to play their wedding (not everyone’s idea of a result) to having a couple of beers with the President of the United States.
The psychology that drives our reticence is fascinating because for the most part people actually want to be helpful. There’s a dividend for us in acts of kindness: it feeds us emotionally and physically. I love being asked for help. And yet, when I’m lost in my car without a SatNav or a map, do I find it easy to ask for help? Nope.
A study in the International Journal of Behavioural Medicine found that a strong correlation exists between the well-being, happiness, health, and longevity of people who are emotionally and behaviorally compassionate. We get a kick out of being asked the way. It’s actually good for our health to be asked for directions.
There is something important in this for us as communicators. We’ve moved beyond the age of didactic communications. The years when billions were spent telling people things have been replaced by a new age in which businesses converse with their customers and ask them things – and even sometimes ask things of them. If you ask your customers for help, it can form a bond.
When we work with brands, an important part of what we often do is called (if you’ll forgive the jargon) employee engagement. If we ask our clients’ colleagues for their help with a project it gives them a strong and rewarding sense of ownership and compassion for the project, which helps enormously with the project’s success in this conversational age.
Permit me, then, to chance my arm. I’ve been writing to you for several months about all sorts of things communications-related. I really hope that you like what you read. I also hope that we get the opportunity to work with you at some point in the future. For now, though, I wonder whether I might ask a favour?
You may have friends, peers or contacts in other (non-competing) companies that we might be able to help. I wondered whether you would be kind enough to introduce me to one of your contacts?