Be More Like a Four-Year-Old: Just Ask


My wife and I are blessed to be the proud parents of a precocious four-year-old boy. He is a delight to be around, and certainly delights in being around others – quite the little ham he is. Recently he developed a habit of posing like a celebrity on the red carpet whenever someone wants to take his photo: hands on the hip, big, bright smile, and chin slightly upturned. His mother and I have no idea where he learned this.

Surprisingly, the point of introducing him is more than just to say how wonderful he is. Something struck me recently when he was asking for a cookie for the ten thousandth time. Now, I had said no approximately five thousand times (and his mother four thousand, nine hundred and ninety-nine times). Yet, he still asked again. Why would he do this? No adult would continue to ask for something over and over again while being turned down at each request.

Certainly if you’ve ever spent any significant amount of time around children of this age this is something that you also have noticed. After thinking about this for a while, I think I have stumbled on the answer. There is no downside to him asking over and over again. It’s all upside! If we get sick of him asking then we might give in and he gets his cookie, but it’s not likely we get upset at him for asking.

Children don’t concern themselves with the social norms adults do. They don’t get uncomfortable when they received ten thousand rejections. The possibility that the ten thousand and first will receive a positive response is as exciting as the possibility of the first request.

Sadly, adults do not live in this world. I would never suggest to a friend, and not likely even to an enemy, that they ask for a raise ten thousand times if the first nine thousand, nine hundred and ninety-nine responses were negative. But, would the employer fire this individual after ten thousand requests? There would be some significant reputational damage, and likely water cooler gossip. Considering the absolute ridiculousness of someone asking for a raise ten thousand times, these repercussions aren’t bad. Besides, no reasonable employee would ask for something over and over and over like a four-year-old.

The problem is that most people are so afraid of the damage their ten thousandth request will do that they don’t make the first request. Channel some of that four-year-old optimism: just ask for what you want. There is almost certainly more upside than downside. But probably don’t ask ten thousand times – just once to see what happens.


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