The Uncomfortable Ask – Ethically, Morally, and Timely
“Just ask?” Yes, even during a time like this, just ask.
These are times of extremes when everyone and everywhere will face a dilemma like these uncomfortable questions pose. There is “no appropriate time” to “just ask” comfortably and we don’t know how long this pandemic is going to last and whether it is going to be a ‘U’, “V” or “Checkmark” recovery curve. We all just know it will take time.
This blog will explore how we all should get better on what we call ‘art of the ask’ – however trivial or traumatic the situation we find ourselves in. From asking your teenager to socially distance herself and improve their personal hygiene, to enforcing a “no handshake” rule, to asking your colleagues to stay at home whilst suspecting an allergy attack or even symptoms of a flu, or asking for a moratorium on payments from the vendors you do business with, or requesting your top customer to pay their renewal so you can you your employees, or even giving your college nephew or niece money to survive (unsolicited or unasked!), or even that odd-nod with your spouse so you can retreat to the guest bedroom for the night.
Why is this important? Because we all have to move forward, we all have bills to pay, payrolls to meet, obligations to satisfy, and plan for an indefinite future whatever they may hold. This means asking for shared sacrifice with people who have shared values and are committed with your teams to achieve shared success.
Timing is crucial in the art of ask. In fact, time is everything. (Adapted from a Miles Davis quote)
First, let’s start with retrenchment discussions we have just had to do at WealthEngine. We believe our purpose is to provide unwavering support of our customer’s mission – both nonprofit and financial institutions- who are doing everything they can to survive, so they may protect our health and wealth of their constituents during these turbulent times.
So we “asked” all our WE’rs, as they are affectionately called, for a shared sacrifice to protect their fellow associates and to prevent mass layoffs in a time of global uncertainty. Key C-suite executives are going on a $1 paycheck indefinitely. The trust, gratitude and ability to grow together out of this situation – has NO bigger test than the one we are all facing right now. I also don’t believe we are unique in this process and seek to learn about how others are working creatively to support each other in the new form, meaning and age of the “shared-economy”i.e., “shared-pain”! I asked our staff for one word that described how they’re feeling right now. Here’s a word cloud on what they said:
Second, for nonprofits who have to keep their museums, theaters, kitchens, exhibitions, educational and health care institutions funded, so they keep supporting their artists, researchers, teachers, janitors, nurses, security, technologists, scientists working creatively through this crisis is a gigantic challenge. While Smithsonian and other great institutions are putting their natural treasures online – its only natural for them to ‘ask’ that all of their patrons continue with their monthly subscriptions and in fact pay up their dues in advance.
While lobbyists continue to elbow-grease and try to be their client’s best advocates in Washington and seek to maximize government bail for their respective industries they represent, who will lobby for the nonprofits? Who will lobby for the local pre-school chain? Who will lobby for the local theatre, museum, or the favorite restaurants?
Lobbyists have mastered the art of the ask – and they am sure feel very comfortable doing this for their clients. This is not a value judgement – its what they do for a living and as they go to bat for their client client – because that it what funds their paycheck.
So what can each of us learn from this?
What can nonprofits do to get comfortable in the ‘art of the ask’? Be bold. Be fearless. Be shameless about the cause that you believe in and get closer to your donors and benefactors and solicit help. Jose Andres is an extreme example of closing down his own restaurants to support a make-shift kitchen to support those in need of a hot meal.
So what can wealth managers do to get comfortable in the art of the ask’? Be the calm, cool and collected advisor and help them stay with the plan they have setup – exactly the very reason they chose you to help them in these situations. I.e., long-term thinking through ups-and-downs. If there is anything to do right now – it is perhaps to take NO ACTION – and thereby reducing the volatility in their own lives and in the market.
So what can health managers do to get comfortable in the ‘art of the ask’? Be the community organizer and ask without shame or regret for people to be distant, practice hygiene, and think about donating their time and dollar to their community hospital. Donate the ‘assistance check’ that is coming from the government back into supporting the building of masks, ventilators, hazmat suits, and sanitary material that is so badly required. #EverydayGiving.
So what can educators do to get comfortable in the ‘art of the ask’? Be the confident head-master that demands their students (and parents) to enforce the discipline to carve out “downtime as uptime” and learn new skills across the myriad of free resources that are available. Learn everything this to know about cell-biology, how virus or disinformation spreads, how to collaborate and work remotely with your classmates, and how anti-bullying looks like in the age of an invisible bully who attacks regardless of race, color, creed, or economic might.
As an individual in the pursuit of personal and professional growth, I have always intentionally put myself in uncomfortable positions. From leaving Mother India to be in cold-as-hell graduate school, and then dropping out as a Ph.D candidate to join a small company in Redmond; to asking to be in front a client, as a lowly geeky-developer, with a very thick Indian accent, at Microsoft in the early 1990s, and being mocked-out of a large customer meeting; to proposing and being happily married to an Italian-American and boldly introducing her to as a deeply-conservative-south-
We all need to get comfortable being uncomfortable whether we control the situation or not. Whether it is an uncomfortable conversation with boards, colleagues, co-workers, extended family or our neighbors and friends. Whether its an uncomfortable ideology we hold dear to our hearts that we have to unshackle from. However trivial or traumatic, once we get past the ask, how we react to one’s response is fully under our control.
It’s an opportunity to be one more step closer to reality. That is what is great about an uncomfortable ask. A step closer to reality.