Honoring the ask

Last week, I had the tremendous pleasure of talking with students about career exploration at the Gallaudet Linguistics Department. Our conversation focused on honoring “the ask.”

“ask” in ASL (from ASL University) Image

If career exploration is predicated on networking (as I argue that it is), professional opportunities will occur as the result of asking and being asked for things. Thus honoring the “ask” ultimately means paying attention to opportunities to ask for and to give things as well as being mindful of how these “asks” in turn create and are created by relationships.

If we have cultivated supportive relationships, we have people in our lives who want to help us, but we need to ask.

DO ask!

Students can sometimes hold back because they are worried about being a bother. Or, if you are like I was when I first started graduate school, I wasn’t even to the holding back stage yet – I was too naïve to even realize that I should be asking for things! At Gallaudet last week, they asked me what I wish I would have asked sooner.

I responded with a story.

After I attended my first academic conference, I shared a taxi with my advisor back to the airport to head home. He was telling me all about the sessions that he had gone to and the people he had met and he kept saying “oh you should have been to that one!” and “yeah, you probably would have really gotten a lot out of meeting that researcher.” I was so frustrated! But it took me a while to wake up to the fact that advising is a two-way street. It is not his job when we are heading to a conference to be looking at the program and thinking “what talks would Anna be most interested in?” it is MY job to ask: “what talks are you going to?” and crucially “WHY?” or maybe – if I have really taken the time to invest in building a reciprocal relationship with him, making him aware of my interests, I can ask “what talks do you think I would be most interested in?” or “would you be willing to introduce me to this person?”

I came to realize over the years that there are lots of “asks” happening at conferences. People have scheduled their days with breakfast meetings weeks before they even leave home to travel to the conference. Publishers are there to ask and be asked about current trends and publication possibilities. Editors of journals are listening to the papers being presented so that they can ask people to contribute manuscripts. Researchers are looking for opportunities to ask people to collaborate.


It means having taken the time to identify what you need and who might be a good person to help you. It means having cultivated a relationship with someone so that you have earned the right to ask for things. It means breaking down your “ask” into manageable chunks, thinking about who it is that you are asking and what can reasonably be asked of them.

So for example “I don’t know what to do with my future” is a really big ask. How about:

What conferences should I be thinking about attending if I want to know more about research applications of language and gender?

I want to learn more about cross-cultural communication in the workplace. Do you have any ideas for me about resources?

Do you know anyone who works in X industry, Y organization, doing Z kind of work?

Who else should I be talking to?

Being asked

As the askee, it is your job to pay attention to what it is that you are actually being asked for. Are you willing and able to give that right now? Are you even the right person? Is this request too big? Askers need feedback. In this digital age, it is very easy to just ignore an e-mail when the request is too big or off-base, but it is tremendously valuable feedback for the asker to receive as he/she is going to be asking for things for the rest of his/her professional life. Honoring the ask is a practice that we all need to become better at, from both sides.


My ask:

Give me one hour this week on LinkedIn to think about your future

  • What is one thing you can ask for right now?
  • What is one ask that you can respond to for someone else?
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