Ask, Don’t Tell if You Want Commitment

The following week Pat was thrilled to receive her Certified Learning Consultant designation in the mail. She took a selfie with it and sent it to Bill so he could give the okay for the communications department to send out the company wide announcement. It went out Thursday afternoon and almost immediately Pat received dozens of congratulations and well-wishes through the company Intranet.

When Friday rolled around, she was eager to see Coach Smith. She brought a printed copy of the announcement to show him. She walked into the coffee shop about five minutes early and true to form, Coach was already there with a cup of coffee chatting with some people sitting next to him.

“Coach, it’s so good to see you. You look rested and relaxed. How was your time away with Sally?” she asked with genuine interest.

Coach replied, “It was wonderful! The weather didn’t always cooperate but that was okay. Sally and I’ve been married for more than 40 years and I enjoy spending time with her just as much as I did when I first met her. We’ve both grown a lot and our interests have changed so we always have plenty to talk about. I appreciate you asking. How were the last two weeks for you?”

Immediately Pat launched into all that was going on. She told him, “I took your advice to heart about writing a bio. I talked with Bill, my boss, about using it to make the announcement about my designation. It worked like a charm! I had people reaching out to me throughout the company intranet. Even people I’d not met before were congratulating me. I think it gained the corporate university quite a bit of good PR. In addition to that, I reworked the bio so I always have something ready if I need to be formally introduced. And, I redid my LinkedIn profile using much of what I wrote.”

With a familiar wide smile coach Smith told her, “I’m so proud of you Pat. Just like in your playing days, you’re so coachable because you take everything you learn and put it into practice. Keep doing that and whatever you choose to do you’ll be a success.”

 It always made Pat happy when she  got such praise from Coach Smith.

 “Are you ready for a new lesson?” he asked.

“Absolutely!” Pat said. “What are we going to talk about today?”

“Even if we have strong relationships and people trust us as leaders, sometimes they’re still not doing what we need them to do. If I think back to my coaching days, I always felt like I had very good relationships with each player. I know they looked at me as knowledgeable about the game and none of the young ladies who played for me were unsure about what needed to be done. However, there were always some who still weren’t applying themselves as I needed them to. Early in my career this was the area I struggled with most, how to motivate some players to take action,” he confessed.

“We didn’t seem to have that problem during my four years,” Pat said, not believing that could have ever been the case for Coach.

He told Pat, “That’s because by the time you played I’d learned an awful lot about how to influence people. There are a couple of psychological principles that are very good when it comes to this. The one I want to talk about today is called commitment and consistency.”

He went on, “Let me ask you a couple of questions. Has somebody ever told you what to do and, even if you heard them, you didn’t follow through?”

 “Yes,” she replied, looking dpwn.

“And how did you feel about that?” Coach asked.

“Not good, but sometimes it couldn’t be helped. And truth be told, sometimes I didn’t really know what was expected of me,” she said candidly.

“Here’s my second question,” Coach said. “Has someone ever asked you to do something and you clearly said yes but failed to do it?”

She replied, “Not too often because I always knew my reputation was on the line if I promised someone I’d do something. Whenever that was the case I worked extra hard to make sure I kept my word.”

“That’s exactly what commitment and consistency is all about,” he said as he took a sip of this coffee. “You see, there’s something in almost all of us that wants to live up to our commitments. In many respects humans are little pleasure seekers and pain avoiders. When we live up to our word, we feel better about ourselves and we look better in the eyes of those we committed to. It’s a powerful psychological concept because it’s operating internally and externally.”

“That makes sense but I don’t fully understand the difference,” Pat said as she squinted her eyes and thought about it more.

Coach went on, “The difference is asking instead of telling. When someone tells you what to do you don’t feel nearly as bad, or perhaps not bad at all, at not doing what you were told because you didn’t commit to it. However, when someone asks and we give our word, that’s what triggers the principle. It prompts people to take action.”

Thinking for a moment Pat said, “As I reflect on your coaching it never occurred to me before but rarely did I ever feel like you told us what to do. Occasionally you might have told the team what to do, but when it came to individuals you were always asking. In fact, I remember one time when Katie was having trouble with her free throws. You didn’t tell her to practice her free throws everyday for 15 minutes before practice. If I recall correctly, I overheard you say, ‘Katie will you promise me that you’ll be here everyday 15 minutes before practice starts to shoot your free throws.’”

Coach replied, “Wow you have a great memory. You’re absolutely right, Katie was really struggling with her free throws and I knew I needed a commitment from her to make sure that she would be there early every day. I know you didn’t look at the stats as much as I did but early in her career she was barely a 50% free-throw shooter. By the end she was just over 80%. It wasn’t anything miraculous I did, it was all her doing, her hard work. All I did was make sure she was at every practice all those years 15 minutes early to work on her free throws.”

Glancing at his watch he let Pat know he had somewhere to be so he ended their time asking her, “Will you make it a point to be less directive this week by asking more questions?

Smiling Pat said, “I see what you did there. Yes, I will make it a priority to ask rather than tell.”

With that they got up, shared a quick hug and made their way to the door.


  1. And Now for Something Completely Different
  2. Coach’s Lesson on Liking
  3. Game Time for Pat
  4. Coach’s Lesson on Reciprocity
  5. Tis Better to Give
  6. A Lesson on Peer Pressure
  7. Putting Peer Pressure to Work at Work
  8. A Trusted Expert
  9. Becoming a Respected Leader
  10. Ask, Don’t Tell if You Want Commitment
  11. Less Directive
  12. Wins and Losses
  13. Don’t be a Downer
  14. Self-sacrifice
  15. Pay it Forward

Brian Ahearn, CPCU, CTM, CPT, CMCT

Brian Ahearn is the Chief Influence Officer at Influence PEOPLE. An author, TEDx speaker, international trainer, coach, and consultant, he’s one of only a dozen people in the world personally trained by Robert Cialdini, Ph.D., the most cited living social psychologist on the science of ethical influence.

Brian’s first book, Influence PEOPLE, was named one of the 100 Best Influence Books of All Time by BookAuthority. His follow-up, Persuasive Selling for Relationship Driven Insurance Agents, was an Amazon new release bestseller. His new book, The Influencer: Secrets to Success and Happiness, is a business parable.

Brian’s LinkedIn courses on persuasive selling and coaching have been viewed by more than 500,000 people around the world.

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