I’ve been wondering about why “the ask” for philanthropic funding can be the hardest, most awkward point in the meeting. Here are some thoughts from somewhere else entirely…
Try this experiment: bend at your waist and, in a relaxed fashion, try to touch your toes (or however close you happen to get, it doesn’t matter). Then, with no extra effort at all, take four deep breaths, focusing on exhaling. I promise you by your fourth breath you’ll be a lot closer to your toes than you were when you started.
What’s going on here? Our nervous systems are well-adapted to protection, so any time the body is in a position that is new or unfamiliar, our sympathetic nervous system tightens muscles to protect us from going into positions that might hurt us. It’s your body saying “this seems risky…I’m going to tighten up to stay safe.”
The deep breaths tell our minds and our bodies that everything is OK and that we’re not going to get hurt, and the protection reflex passes, which is why it just takes a few breaths to get closer to our toes.
“The ask” can make your body’s protective/panic response kick in. When you’re new to it, it feels like a standing-at-the-side-of-a-freezing-cold-pool-about-to-jump-in moment that causes so much anticipation that you freeze up – and in so doing make the person you’re talking to freeze up as well. “Here we go!” your subconscious screams. “This is probably going to be terrible!”
How do you develop the confidence not to panic? How do you find ease in this uncomfortable situation?
The only answer I see comes from recognizing the response, and putting yourself in the situation that makes you feel that way as MUCH as possible (tough, I know), and then find what it takes for you not to panic (better yet, shine). You don’t get there by starting at the deepest end of the pool with the coldest water. You start small and build up, and then keep on pushing yourself into situations that ARE hard, but you teach yourself to act easy. You teach yourself that everything is going to be OK. You learn to take the thing that you once feared, that once was difficult, and to breathe into it and be your best, most confident self even then. (Sure, there’s plenty of technique and tactics too, but recognizing and addressing the panic response is part of the answer).
Two closing observations: you won’t get better at this without putting yourself in that situation more and more often. And you’ll definitely bungle some things along that way.
(That’s OK too. How else are you going to learn?)