When you need to ask someone to do something – whether it’s to make a purchase, change the way something is done, or even donate to your kid’s school fundraiser – there are three little words you can use that will make your request much more persuasive.
You may have made career changes that challenged you in unprecedented ways. That happened for me when I left my Speech Communication faculty position at the University of Georgia to become a development officer—a softer way of saying fund raiser—for my undergraduate alma mater, Millsaps College.
Asking people—even loyal alumni—for contributions takes tact, and finding the right wording is essential. Fortunately, my supervisor who headed the development office gave me a three-word formula that worked very well. Instead of saying something like “We’re counting on you for a major gift of $10,000,” he taught me to ask, “Could you consider a gift of $10,000?”
Note the huge difference. Phrasing your request this way doesn’t sound coercive at all. You leave freedom of choice to the potential donor. The subtle distinction: you’re not asking the prospect to give, you are asking her to consider.
Through two decades of fundraising, this approach enabled me to bring in many thousands of dollars in charitable contributions that my institutions might have missed otherwise. Equally as important, the gifts came in quite willingly.
How This Approach Will Help You in Business
Let’s say you and your colleagues are frustrated by the 3:00 pm staff meetings you must attend every Friday. You are hesitant to say to the CEO, “We’re not happy with a late Friday meeting.” Yet you feel comfortable asking: “Could you consider a mid-morning Friday staff meeting instead of mid-afternoon on Friday? The group would be more alert and attentive, and you wouldn’t see us checking our watches every few minutes.”
Suppose your company president wants to merge PR and marketing. You’re tempted to stroll into her office and say, “You’re making a mistake with that merger.” That wording will backfire. Try this: “Could you consider leaving PR and marketing separate, as they are now? I agree with you there are similarities, but I believe morale and productivity will stay stronger with the current division.”
In your business travels, these almost magical three words could help your accommodations. Checking into a hotel: “Could you consider upgrading us to a suite? We’ve had a very long travel day, and we’re going to make a presentation early tomorrow morning. A restful evening in one of your splendid suites will help us so much.” You’ll be amazed at how often this works if space is available.
As a consultant, you won’t get very far by saying, “I’d like to see us extend our contract three months.” You are far more likely to get that extension by asking: “Could you consider adding another three months to our working arrangement? We can accomplish so much more for your organization with that added quarter of service.”
Real estate sales professionals can re-direct attention with: “Could you consider looking at one more house I have in mind for you, even though you said you have definitely decided to buy that lakefront home?”
For another: A common workplace situation finds an employee overloaded with assignments from her supervisor. Her to-do list already appears impossible to accomplish before the assigned deadline. So when her employer hands her one more task to add to her overflowing list, she is tempted to say: “No way I can take that on, doing plenty of other things already.” However, that statement sounds like insubordination. Substitute this: “Could you consider reviewing with me the projects you have put on my calendar already?”
Note that Stephen Covey heard this identical request from one of his employees when Covey was director of university relations at a large university. As Covey describes the scene in his classic book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, the employee—“a very talented, proactive, creative writer”–asked, “Which of these projects would you like for me to delay or cancel to satisfy your request?”
Examples could continue quite easily, but you get the point by now. By putting the other person “in the driver’s seat,” you indicate your respect for his or her right to decide.
Apply the 3-Word Formula
Now think about your own daily career activities, opportunities, challenges, and conflicts. Identify the situations where you can change your language from confrontational to cooperative.
Can you consider doing this? I hope so, because you will enjoy persuasive success that has escaped you previously.