Don’t Fall Down on Your Ask

Gerwig 2016-03-23

Have you ever given thought to how many emails you’ve received in the last year? What if we expanded the window to the last 5 years? Last decade? Between my personal and work email, I conservatively estimate I receive between 200-400 daily. If I split the difference and multiply by 365, I get just over 100k emails a year. Yes, many of those are “junk” emails and many more I simply ignore, based on the sender, topic, or timing of receipt. But regardless of how you slice the numbers, it’s a lot of email traffic to manage.

And there’s an irritating email behavior I run across regularly. Perhaps you do too. I call it “falling down on your ask.” The same behavior can occur face-to-face, over the phone, over Skype, via text, snail-mail, or via any other form of communication. I’ve experienced the phenomenon for years (decades really) across geography, industry, and culture. What is “falling down on your ask” I hearing you ask-ing? Let me explain. And once I do, I’m sure you’ll see that you, too, have been experiencing the “falling down on your ask” phenomenon.

I don’t have any great examples that I can share without potentially incriminating the perpetrator, so I’ll use some make-believe examples that will illustrate the concept. But before going any further, “falling down on your ask” is simply failing to ask. This failure can be motivated by fear, as in “I’m afraid to ask because I don’t want to be rejected.” This failure can be motivated by assumption, as in “I just assumed you’d know what I needed.” This failure can stem from ignorance, as in “I didn’t know what to ask for.” And this failure can be caused by forgetfulness, as in “I just simply forgot to ask.” Now onto some fictitious examples.

Karen receives a lengthy email from Jim with information about a project, including costs, projected hours needed, milestones, etc. The email is well-written and full of details. Two days later, Jim comes by Karen’s office and says, “Didn’t you receive my email.” Karen says, “Yes.” Jim replies, “But I never heard back from you. And I didn’t receive approval to spend the funds.” To which Karen replies, “You didn’t ask. And, you never asked for fund approval.” Ugh! See how frustrating this is? Jim thinks it should be clear to Karen. He wanted confirmation she received the email and he was awaiting approval for spending. But he fell down on his ask. I don’t know about you, but I’m busy. I don’t have time to respond to every person sending an email and say, “yes, I received your email.” And I refuse to be held captive by those automatic email response generators letting the author know you’ve opened their email. That’s an invasion of my personal space. If it’s important and you want to know I received something, ask. If you want approval, ask. If you want or expect an answer, ask. Make it clear and to the point. Ask.

Communication is nearly always a contributor when there’s a problem. It either contributes to the problem or hinders, in some way, the fix to the problem. I continually write about the importance, the criticality, of communication and decision-making. Falling down on your ask is really about communication. It’s about a failure, a break-down, in the communication process.

Steve wants to ask Mary to the school dance. He flirts with her. He goes by her locker every day for a week to chat her up. He texts and Snap-chats with her, but she ends up going to the dance with another boy. Her second choice. She really wanted to go with Steve, but he fell down on his ask. He was afraid. Pride and fear got in the way. He hoped that Mary would “see” that he liked her and would ask him to the dance. He’s frustrated because someone else is taking Mary to the dance, but he failed to ask. If only Steve had shown a bit more courage and confidence. Instead, his communication skills let him down. He fell on his ask.

You get it don’t you? This is a common phenomenon. I’ve seen it happen to experienced professionals and highly-paid sales executives alike. Kevin is making a sales call to an existing account but there’s an unfamiliar stakeholder. The purchasing director is new. Kevin isn’t prepared to handle this “newcomer” and is flustered. After spending 30 minutes with the VP of Operations and the “new” Director of Purchasing, he walks away empty handed. No new orders. No increased volume. No price increases. Nothing but a big fat goose-egg. Kevin got distracted, lost his train of thought and fell down on his ask.

So, what to do? Ask. Be reasonable. Be aware of the timing. Have the right data gathered. Tee it up. Make it easy. Whether a request for money, hours, new business or a prom date, make your case, share your data, explain your value proposition, or whatever, but then ask. Don’t make your boss, your potential date or your customer say, “what are you asking for?” Worse still, is they ignore your communication because you never asked for anything. They simply move on because they didn’t know you were asking for anything. So they move onto the next guy, the next girl, the next sales rep or the next email. And you’re left empty-handed because you fell down on your ask.

In sum, be courageous, be confident, be clear, be concise, be prepared and ASK.

As always, the floor is open to your comments, suggestions, thoughts, and feedback.

Dr. is an agent of change and is able to balance the needs of the business and the needs of people. Dr. Gerwig believes and practices the values of performance and delivery of business metrics while simultaneously developing and growing people into leaders. You can contact him at RobertGerwig[at]


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One thought on “Don’t Fall Down on Your Ask

  1. Love the range of situations used as examples…I think we can all recognize plenty of our own, too.

    I learned the hard way that there’s only three reasons for a communication – especially e-mail – (1) I want something; (2) the person I’m writing to wants something; (3) I want to entertain you. So, each communication either (1) directly asks a question; (2) acknowledges and directly answers a question; (3) has no pretense of wanting a response (although it often gets a one-up).

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