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How to Make a Request that Gets Fulfilled

How you ask will change the answer you get. Get-It-Done Guy has tips on how to make a request that’s more likely to get a “yes.”

By
Stever Robbins
4-minute read
Episode #264

When you make a request, you want the person you’re asking to say “yes.” Of course, you have to ask in the first place. But some ways of asking work better than others. My pal Bernice asked me to review the business book she’s writing called From Mulch to Multinational. It’s about her plant store’s phenomenal success. She sent me a one-line email saying, “Stever, I love you. You’re my BFF forever. Now please help promote my book.” Sweet, but utterly ineffective. Remember my episode on how to say an honest "No"? (No? Well, that’s honest. Go check it out now.)

I used my own lesson and told Bernice that I just didn’t have time.

So she called in the big guns. Europa, our former-pop-star-turned-secret-economic-overlord of the Eastern Bloc, put her assistant Kaitlin on the task. As everyone knows, it’s the assistants who actually get things done. Kaitlin resent Bernice’s request, and I said “Yes” before I knew what hit me.

When my head cleared, I rushed to Kaitlin and asked her how to make a request that works so unbelievably well. Here’s what she told me:

Be Specific When You Make a Request

The first step, Kaitlin points out, is making your request specific. People only have 2.6 seconds to read and understand your message. “Please help promote my book” is too vague. Promote it how? On your podcast? On Twitter? On Facebook? By pitching it to network TV? A vague request got a vague response: silence.

A better request would be, “Please mention my book on your podcast and arrange an interview with Oprah this week.” Fortunately, Bernice didn’t ask that, so next time Oprah and I have brunch, I won’t have to be that guy (I hate being “that guy”) who’s always asking for a favor.

Clarify the Timeline When You Create a Request

When arranging a hostile takeover against an army of programmed trading machines on the stock exchange, Kaitlin points out that timing is crucial. That’s also true of requests. “Please arrange an Oprah interview this week” could mean any time between now and … Friday? Saturday at midnight? Sunday? Specify the day, and the time of day when you need the request. “Please arrange an Oprah interview by Friday at noon. Pacific time.” That request makes the deadline clear. When Oprah hears it, I’m sure she’ll be extra motivated to arrange the interview in a timely fashion.

Specify the Effort Required by Your Request

Fulfilling requests takes effort. If the person she’s asking thinks it will be too much work, they might say “No.” Then Kaitlin would have to drop back to plan B. Kaitlin is a professional; she never drops back to Plan B.

Including a time limit lets people adjust their work level accordingly.

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About the Author

Stever Robbins

Stever Robbins was the host of the podcast Get-it-Done Guy from 2007 to 2019. He is a graduate of W. Edward Deming’s Total Quality Management training program and a Certified Master Trainer Elite of NLP. He holds an MBA from the Harvard Business School and a BS in Computer Sciences from MIT.