When Asking, Focus on Their Benefit

The other day, a friend asked if I would proofread an email for her. Interested in a postgraduate certificate, she was hoping her employer would help pay for it.

The relevant section of the email:

During my time at ABC Corp, I have learned that my professional strengths lie in X. By combining this with my Y experience, I would like to become a subject matter expert in the rapidly growing X space. Based on my research, a Z degree would provide me with the necessary skills and credentials.

At first glance, there is nothing glaringly wrong with this email. However, she made the mistake of highlighting how the certificate would benefit her. It’s great that she wants to learn and become an SME in a growing field. But how does that benefit her manager, the person who is being asked to make a financial contribution? Her email does not say.

When asking for something, always focus on how granting your request will benefit the other person, not you. You don’t have to pretend your motives are purely altruistic – people already assume you’re asking because you stand to benefit. However, if you don’t focus on how the other person will benefit too, you’re not giving them a compelling reason to say yes.

I explained this to her and she edited her email:

During my time… I would like to develop into an ABC Corp subject matter expert in the growing X space. Based on my research, a Z degree would provide me with the necessary skills and credibility in front of clients.

(emphasis mine)

In the second version, the benefit to her manager is much more clear. Zig Ziglar famously said, “You will get all you want in life, if you help enough other people get what they want.

Note that Commandment 7 (“Ask Forgiveness”) need not apply here. She’s asking her manager to give her something rather than accept a fait accompli situation. It is easy for her manager to say no to reimbursement after the fact.

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