Lesson 4: Aim High

April 23, 2008

I have a strategy when dealing with customer service agents. No matter what has happened, no matter how egregiously the company has screwed up, I go to the agent as if it’s my fault. I say, I’ve made a mistake, I feel really silly, and I’m hoping you can help me out with this. I never, ever imply that they are under any obligation to help me at all, and I never indicate that I feel entitled to a solution. It’s all about them helping me out the goodness of their precious little hearts.

I always get phenomenal customer service, and the reason is that I ask nicely for things.

The effect of asking nicely is shocking the first couple times you try it. It opens a whole new world of possibilities. People will bend over backwards for you if they think you understand their situation and that you value their assistance (I bet you didn’t notice that bit of fictional context, did you?) .

To Get Ahead, Ask Nicely

Be Angelic

This transfers to all areas of life. Approaching people with humility, empathy, and patience is almost always the correct strategy for dealing with people, from your sweet, gorgeous wife, to your mean, cantankerous boss.

In general, when asking for things, the person has to decide whether they want to give up what you want. Money, time, prestige, whatever you’re after. This is essentially an adversarial relationship in most people’s mind. By approaching a person cautiously, with his ego in mind, you can turn that relationship into a mutually helpful one. In a psychological sense, you provide the validation and self-esteem he is after. In return, he is on your side in helping you get what you want.

Prime the Pump

Customer service reps are easy to approach, because that’s their job. They are sitting around all day waiting for someone to ask them a question. They are ready to be approached, so the ground work for requesting something of them is laid for you.

In other situations, like asking for a promotion, you must plan ahead to create a context in which you can use your new charming abilities.

From the People Matter lesson, you know what’s important to this person. You want a promotion, and they want stability, confidence, to look good, to feel smart, whatever. You have to put in the effort to play to this person’s quirks so that they are primed and ready for you to ask them to do something for you.

I promise that if you make the boss feel like a million bucks in everything you do, and you approach him in that humble, non-combative way, it won’t be a matter of convincing him to give you a promotion. It’ll be a matter of helping him convince his boss to approve it.

What to ask for

Ask for the stars. You’ve done the leg work to get this person on your side, and you’ve approached them in such a way that they really want to give you what you’re looking for, so take the opportunity to ask for way more than you need to.

Do the research to find out what’s feasible for this person to deliver, then push that boundary. You will be surprised what sufficiently motivated people can accomplish.

I went in for an interview once where they were offering a $90,000 salary. Over the course of a two week interview process in which I repeatedly asked nicely to talk to the next guy up, I finally convinced the head of the company I was worth at least $135,000. They hadn’t planned to pay that much, but my patience and research paid off. I asked for a pie in the sky, and I got keylime.

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One Response to “Lesson 4: Aim High”


  1. […] Top Articles Lesson 5: Always be Looking « Lesson 4: Aim High […]


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