practice-your-askYou know those moments when you make a split decision in seconds? I made one a few weeks ago, and I’ve been kicking myself over it ever since. It’s a small, even stupid, thing, but it drove home an important lesson I keep forgetting: just ask.

See, I rented a car for a family trip, and you know how the reservation says, “Such and such model or something similar,” well, the attendant put us in something similar. Except it wasn’t. It didn’t have as much cargo space as we needed, but instead of asking for the exact vehicle I knew we needed, I just squeezed everything in and drove out of the lot.

Like I said, not a huge thing, but it bothered me clear up to the time we returned the car and headed to the airport. Why didn’t I ask?

I think there are a few reasons we make this mistake, particularly when it comes to business. But most come back to a central idea. On some level, we’re afraid.

Anyone who knows me realizes that fear of confrontation doesn’t really apply to me — in most instances.

But on this trip, I was with my family, including some small children. In that split second, it seemed like I risked conflict over something I told myself didn’t really matter. In hindsight, I realize the attendant was just as likely to say, “Sorry, we’re all out of that model,” as anything else.

In business, the fear is often one of offense. How dare we “challenge” someone by asking? Be it a client or someone more senior in the operation, who are we to question that person?

It may sound like a simple thing, but it helps to practice. So grab a friend or two and use them as guinea pigs. Then, think about all the times you asked and it didn’t go well, or you never asked at all. Work through those scenarios, and ask for feedback.

What does your body language look like? Do you get in the other person’s space, even inadvertently?

Do you make eye contact? Remember, that even when you’re not speaking, your body is broadcasting your thoughts. Make sure what you want to ask is complemented by how you appear.

How do you sound? What’s the tone of your voice? Do you sound angry? Do you sound engaged? Volume matters here. Make sure you speak clearly so the other person can hear you, but try to keep your tone neutral.

What words do you tend to use? Be careful with pronouns. “You” and “I” carry a lot of weight, so use them with care. Try to keep your ask inclusive when possible.

By using these practice sessions to build up a cache of solid “asks,” they’ll begin to come to you naturally when these moments pop up. Be it requesting a better rate from a vendor or a specific rental car from an attendant, don’t forget there’s power in daring to ask — if you do it the right way.