Asking for what you want seems like the simplest thing in the world. But for many, it’s the hardest.

The power of asking runs deeper than posing questions. It’s an intelligent act that involves humility, thoughtfulness and a willingness to heed the replies.

You’d be hard pressed to find a successful person who hasn’t asked a lot to get where they are.

My friend recounted how the CEO of a major multinational food and produce company visited his country’s offices and gave everyone there a speech. The CEO told him that in business and life, there are many opportunities out there that can be seized upon. However they remain out of reach unless we ask. The worst that can happen after you ask is that you get a ‘no’. If that’s the extent of the rejection, why not go ahead and ask?

That CEO’s sentiments are also shared by many other extraordinarily successful people.

At an address, Barack Obama once said: “Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it. I do that every day. Asking for help isn’t a sign of weakness, it’s a sign of strength. It shows you have the courage to admit when you don’t know something, and to learn something new.”

Another quote said by the greatest player in the history of ice hockey Wayne Gretzky is: “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”

You miss 100% of the yeses you never ask for.

Yeses in the ether

Recall the anecdote from the CEO about how there are opportunities out there at the touch of a request button. The only thing stopping you from accessing these opportunities is a lack of asking.

Another way of looking at this is to consider two realms: the realm of ‘yeses’ and the realm of ‘nos’. Both realms are large in size but the realm of ‘nos’ is particularly massive. It’s easy to think that with the amount of ‘nos’ we encounter in life, the realm of ‘yeses’ is minute. We become conditioned to believe that the default is ‘no’ and ‘yeses’ are only the result of luck. We stop making requests.

But the ‘yeses’ never really disappeared. They might not have come from the same people, but they’re around. Those opportunities are available to those with the confidence to ask but remain hidden to the tongue-tied.

I call these ‘yeses in the ether’. We never really know what we might get access to unless we ask. There’s no denying that most of the time, our requests won’t be met. But it only takes one ‘yes’ to transform our lives.

The manager offering you a pay rise. The lead liaising with you over coffee. The apple of your eye agreeing to a date.

Some careers know this better than others. A chugger (charity fundraiser) expects huge rejection when hustling for donations on the street. In many sales jobs, daily rejection is the norm. Yet a single largesse or contract from an individual can be enough to meet a quota. That one yes makes up for countless rejections.

The worst that can happen when you ask for something is a ‘no’. A mere ‘no’. Two letters. One syllable.

If you’ve heard it thousands of times before, why should the next one sting? Don’t let any one rejection condition you out of the proactive approach of asking. Those odds are worth staking on.

The Power Of Asking Yeses

Asking is a sign of intelligence

When I was very young, I used to be scared of raising my hand and asking teachers questions in front of the class. The fear was from a combination of others expecting me to already know what was being discussed and reprisal if my question might appear ‘stupid’.

The reality is that the stupid behaviour is to not ask a question in class. You’re willingly disrupting your own learning by remaining oblivious. The person you hesitate to ask a question to is paid to ensure your understanding of the subject matter and you still don’t do it.

Luckily, I grew out of that fear by my teens but if we’re not mindful, the vestiges of this care about what others think can linger and hold us back.

In this sense, asking is an act of both cognitive and emotional intelligence.

Cognitive because smart people have a never-ending curiosity to learn and questions are an important vehicle to do so. As the saying goes: “Intelligent individuals learn from every thing and every one; average people, from their experiences. The stupid already have all the answers.”

Emotional because by asking a question, you accept that there’s a gap in your knowledge of the world. If you’re in a position of authority where you’re expected to know all there is, it takes humility to put your ego aside and ask for help.

Author and fitness entrepreneur Jennifer Cohen portrays this as: “Smart people think of all the negative things that will happen when things go wrong, but bold people think of all the good things that will happen when things go right”.

It’s arguable that the only stupid question that exists is “Can I ask you something?”. All other questions are valid from your standpoint—they’re how we learn and grow.

If the downside doesn’t result in death and the upside is a potential life-altering positive change, why not ask? It’s the smart thing to do.

The Power Of Asking Intelligence

The power of asking is in the quality of your questions

It isn’t enough to ask. We also have to ask well.

The quality of your questions determines the quality of your life.

On an internal level, the questions we ask ourselves guide our introspection. We can be a condemning self-critic wallowing in rumination or we can prompt ourselves purposefully through wise reflection.

In the external world, if you want to get anything in life, chances are the skills and know-how are in other people’s heads. Asking the right questions is the key to unlocking the doors of knowledge and opportunities within them.

What are the qualities of quality questions?

They’ll be times when you’ll want to be straight to the point, asking a question that’ll have a yes or no answer.

But most of the time, there’s an art to asking the right questions. One which moves beyond binary answers:

-> Favour open-ended questions to get to the heart of something: Who, what, when, where, why and how questions go deeper than close-ended questions.

-> Specify to avoid being too broad: A question such as “What can you do to help me?” places too much pressure on the person you’ve asked vs “What’s your ability with ___?”. Similarly, “What is the meaning of life?” is more difficult to answer than “What gives you meaning in life?”.

When you specify, you give the other person ample time to come up with a good answer and keep the conversation tailored to you and them.

-> Pay attention to the sequence of questions: Unless you’re very close to someone, asking certain questions right away can be brusque. It’s better to build up to a question like “Why do you lead your life the way you do?” than to pose it right after hello.

Establish rapport with someone and get them comfortable with a back and forth of questions first before you ask huge ones.

Proper questions are powerful but they don’t matter if you fail to listen.

The Power Of Asking Quality

Be ready to listen

A person who’s fearful of asking any questions and a person who asks the perfect questions but doesn’t listen come away with the same result.

Remember asking is a sign of humility. We ask questions for learnings and admittance we have yet to experience.

The best way we can do that after asking is through real listening.

Not asking with loaded questions to expect definitive answers. But to hear with openness, whatever it is that is being said.

If you’re asking questions that generate feedback, you have to be prepared to hear what you might not want to hear. It wouldn’t be learning otherwise.

Also understand that not all questions provide immediate answers. As journalist Krista Tippett remarked: “Questions themselves can offer no immediate need of answers. Counter to our notion that everything must have an answer, some of the most worthwhile questions are the ones with no immediate answers.”

Regardless of whether you get immediate answers or not, posing the questions is the right thing to do.

The Power Of Asking Listen


The power of asking for what you want is a crucial skill in life.

At opportune moments, it’s simple as can be. But if we don’t cultivate asking, we can lack the courage to do so when it would otherwise benefit us.

There’s a plethora of ‘yeses’ in the ether to be found. The realm of yeses can seem tiny compared to the amount of nos we receive in all walks of life. But we should never allow any amount of nos to render us timid in making future requests. All it takes is one yes to transform our lives in a significant way.

Asking is a sign of cognitive and emotional intelligence. It’s a direct way of learning and accessing opportunities. But it also requires the ability to put your ego aside and accept that when you ask, others will find out that you lack knowledge or access and that’s ok.

Asking proper questions leads to a proper life. Having the courage to ask is most of the battle but perfecting how you ask will get you real results.

The power of asking only bears fruit when we listen to the answers. If you’re asking to learn, be careful not to ask with an agenda, instead be open to whatever it is that you hear.