How To Ask Intelligently for What You Want



“Questions are never indiscreet, answers sometimes are.” — Oscar Wilde

If you’re not getting what you want, you might not be asking the right way.  Or, you might not be asking the right person.

It’s an easy trap to fall into.  It’s easy to ask, but it’s not so easy to ask well. 

It takes practice. 

Even with practice, I still fall into the traps of asking too generic a question, or asking the wrong person. 

However, I catch myself faster, and it’s easy to course correct, because I know what asking intelligently looks like.

The Big Picture of How To Ask Intelligently

You need to know exactly what you want and why you want it so you can be very specific in your ask.  After all, how will somebody help you if they don’t even know what you want them to do?

And you need to ask somebody who can actually help you.  That means somebody who has actually solved the problem you have, or has the resources to help you.  It’s fun to share problems with friends, but if you need results, check that you’re asking who can actually help.

People help those who help themselves.  They also help people who bring something to the table … a game of “tradesies.”  They want to know what’s in it for them.  If you can create value, so it’s not just one-way, you up level your game, and create the win-win.

Keep asking until you get what you want.  But don’t keep asking the same way if it’s not working.  Change your approach.  Maybe you need to ask a different question.  Maybe you need to ask a different person.  Maybe you need to find a more valuable proposition.

How To Ask More Intelligently

In Unlimited Power : The New Science Of Personal Achievement, Tony Robbins writes about asking intelligently and precisely to get the results you want.

 According to Tony, here are the steps:

  1. Ask specifically
  2. Ask someone who can help you
  3. Create value for the person you’re asking
  4. Ask with focused, congruent belief.
  5. Ask until you get what you want

It looks simple right? 

That’s the beauty. 

The challenge is to apply it. 

1. Ask Specifically

This is where your ability to be concrete and specific will help you.  The more accurately and precisely you can ask for what you want, the more somebody else can help you.

Otherwise, you leave a lot to interpretation and, even if somebody may mean well, they may not actually know what you mean, or what you are asking for.

In the words of Jerry Maguire, “Help me, help you.”

Robbins writes:

“You must describe what you want, both to yourself and to someone else.  How high, how far, how much?  When, where, how, with whom? If you business needs a loan, you’ll get it—if you know how to ask. 

You won’t get it if you say, ‘We need some more money to expand into a new product line.  Please lend us some.’  You need to define precisely what you need, why you need it, and when you need it.  You need to be able to show what you’ll be able to produce with it.”

2.  Ask Somebody Who Can Help You

How many people ask the wrong people for help.  It happens all the time.

You might know what you want, but then you ask the wrong person to help you.

Robbins writes:

“It’s not enough to ask specifically, you must also ask specifically  of someone who has the resources—the knowledge, the capital, the sensitivity, or the business experience.  Let’s say you’re having trouble with your spouse.  Your relationship is falling apart.  You can pour out your heart.  You can be as specific and as honest as humanly possible.  But if you seek help from someone who has a pitiful a relationship as you do, will you succeed?  Of course not.”

Robbins also points out that this is where you really have to pay attention to what’s working and change your approach:

“Finding the right person to ask brings us back to the importance of learning how to notice what works. 

Anything you want—a better relationship, a better job, a smarter program for investing your money—is something someone already has or something someone already does.

The trick is to find those people and figure out what they do right.  Many of us gravitate toward barroom wisdom.  We fine a sympathetic ear and expect that to translate to results. 

It won’t unless the sympathy is matched by expertise and knowledge.”

3.  Create Value for the Person You are Asking

People help those who help themselves.    But they especially help people that create a win-win.

When you help somebody help you, it might be a financial partnership, but it also might be as simple as creating feelings of goodwill or helping them achieve their goals or ambitions or experiences they want to create.

Robbins writes:

“Don’t just ask and expect someone to give you something. Figure out how you can help them first.  If you’ve had a business idea and need money to pull it off, one way tot od it is to find someone who can both help and benefit. 

Show them your idea can make money for you and for them as well. 

Creating value doesn’t always have to be that tangible.  The value you create may only be a feeling or a sensibility or a dream, but often that’s enough.“

4.  Ask with Focused Congruent Belief

You need to feel it in your bones.  When you ask for somebody, it should be so clear and compelling that you feel it in your body, with incredible certainty.

Otherwise, you are asking somebody to bet on you and take the risk, when you aren’t even sure yourself.

Robbins writes:

“The surest way to ensure failure is to convey ambivalence.  If you aren’t convinced about what you’re asking for, how can anyone else be? 

So when you ask, do it with absolute conviction.  Express that in your words and your physiology.

Be able to show that you’re sure of what want and you’re sure you’ll succeed and you’re sure you will create value, not just for you, but the person you are asking as well.”

5. Ask Until You Get What You Want

Keep asking.  But keep changing your approach or changing who you ask.

If you really want something, keep asking in the direction of your outcome but staying flexible along the way.

That’s how you ask more intelligently.

Robbins writes:

“That doesn’t mean asking the same person.  If doesn’t mean asking the in precisely the same way.  Remember, the Ultimate Success Formula says you need to develop the sensory acuity to know what you’re getting, and you have to have the personal flexibility to change. 

So when you ask, you have to change and adjust until you achieve what you want. 

When you study the lives of successful people, you’ll find over and over again that they kept asking, kept trying, kept changing—because they knew that sooner or late they would find someone who could satisfy their need.”

What’s the Toughest Part of Asking Intelligently?

The toughest part of asking intelligently is getting specific.  It’s easy to ask in a vague way.  It’s more difficult to really hone in on what you are really asking for.

Robbins writes:

“What’s the toughest part of the formula?  For many people it’s the part about asking specifically.  We don’t live in a culture that puts a premium on precise communication.  It may be one of our biggest cultural failings.

Language reflects a society’s needs.

An Eskimo has several dozen words for ‘snow.’


Because to be an effective Eskimo, you have to be able to make the distinction between different kinds of snow.  There is snow you can run your dogs in, snow you can eat, snow that’s ready to melt.  I’m from California.  I practically never see snow, so the one word I have to it is enough for me.”

Note that while Robbins used the example of an Eskimo, it’s irrelevant.  Think about how well an advanced skier can describe the snow on the slopes.  They can be incredibly more specific than a novice that might just say there is snow on the slopes.

Asking intelligently is a skill.

Practice the skill of asking more intelligently so you can get what you really want.

Interestingly, you can practice asking more intelligently with yourself to build your clarity and conviction and congruence.

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  1. Hi J.D.

    Ask and you shall receive.

    I agree with these key points. We are only wasting our breath if we ask someone who doesn’t know or can’t help us. Many will speculate and give us a good guess, but for a definitive answer we need to go to the right source.

    It reminds me of when I’m doing online research. I will go from site to site until I find the one that answers my question.

    Perseverance does pay off.

  2. Hey Barbara

    Online research still surprises me. As much stuff as I can find online, I’m surprised by how many of the great needles are still in offline haystacks. But like you say, we need to go to the right source.

  3. […] Asking Better Questions […]

  4. What if the only person who can help you does not want to help?

    And what if it makes absolutely no difference to them if your problem goes unsolved? So there’s no ‘tradesies’ because the thing they need most from you is that you stop asking and go away.

    That’s the part I’m stuck on (in a very practical, real world way).

    If the only person or body with the resources/power/expertise to solve your problem doesn’t want to help then you’re felled at the first hurdle. Or probably even before. There’s no negotiating, no logic, no wiggle room.

    I’d seriously appreciate an answer/advice because this is an actual, current issue for me.

  5. @ Sam — If there’s no difference in whether your problem gets unsolved, then there’s no skin in the game — so you have to ask, why are you dependent on them. That might open additional options to you, including how you frame the problem, and which solutions you bet on (I tend to force myself to find 3 options, and then test each path.)

    First, I try never to limit myself to a single point of failure. Even when there is absolutely the right person for the job, or the right person to help, it’s rare that the stars align.

    Second, I try to make sure that if I do have a dependency, that I remove it or mitigate the risk, as quickly as possible.

    If somebody won’t help, I try to make sure at least they won’t hurt.

    Most importantly though, I try to find why they won’t help. Is it because there is nothing in it for them, or because they are against the idea, or against me. If I don’t know their concerns, I can’t address them, so I make sure i know their concerns. I need to be able to articulate why they won’t help. The test is, would they agree, with my articulation?

    I also make it as easy as possible for them to help me. If I truly need their help, then I make it as painless as possible for them, and find as much value or opportunity for them as I can create. Sometimes this is just reframing the problem. Sometimes it’s just connecting at values. Sometimes, it means I “owe them one.”

    It also depends on context. I optimize for collaboration, finding 3rd alternatives, and influence without authority. Sometimes collaboration won’t work for a variety of reasons. Sometimes co-ercion is the right answer. Sometimes, failure, or losing the battle, is the best answer. Sometimes the best way to get help is to use the system around that person to make it in their best interest to help (such as if their manager makes it a priority, or it’s a shared goal or commitment, etc.)

    Two great books on the strategy and tactics are Get the People on Your Side, and Influence without Authority.

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