Asking For What You Want At Work

Is there something that you have been avoiding asking for at work because you are scared or don’t know how?  This is something that has come up many times throughout my career and I continue to need to practice, even in my current role as a General Manager.   Being able to ask for what you want is a valuable skill in growing your career.  Because of this I’d like to share some ideas on how to prepare for the conversation so you can feel confident in to making a request from your boss or any decision maker.  

I’ve used this approach to ask for additional team members (head count), to create a brand new position for me to grow, to purchase new software and to advocate for someone on my team.  The first step in preparing for your request is to have positive assumptions about whomever you are making the request.  If you go into the meeting feeling like you are going to come out with a “no”, most likely you will.  

Now, put yourself in the other person’s shoes.  Try to think about the win-win.  What is it that is important to the potential approver?  What objections might they have?  How can you present the request in a way that shows you’ve thought through the impact of an approval and how it will impact that individual and the business as a whole?  Capture the potential objections and prepare answers to those objections so you will be ready should they come.  

Next, if there is a way to provide data to support your request or maybe a visual representation of what you want to change, take the time to assemble your simple business case.  In some situations I have used spreadsheets with analysis and in others presentation slides with graphics have worked the best to tell the backstory and identify the need quickly. I emphasize quickly here because you also don’t want to lose your audience with too much information.  Think about your audience and what kind of information they value most. Are they a numbers person or a creative type?  Fit your approach to the way that they think.

Set a meeting time to discuss the topic so the person you’re asking is not rushed or feels like they are being cornered.  If it makes sense to share information or files ahead of time for them to look over, this can be a great tactic to allow them to review, ask questions and make a decision more quickly. 

When you get to the meeting, continue to utilize the positive assumption approach.  Present your case and ask for what you want, very specifically.  Then wait.  Don’t get discouraged if there is silence or if they ask for time to process.  When they do start to respond, utilize your active listening skills.  Even if they say no, you may pick up on other options to ask for what you want in a different way.  

Recently I made a proposal to change a major policy with financial impact.  The person I was presenting to is a numbers driven person so I knew it was important to have a table with the numbers for the discussion. While I didn’t receive everything I asked for, after conversation I was able to secure a good portion of what I was seeking.  Through active listening I also learned that I might be able to get “all the way” if I could do some more fact finding and go back for the remaining request.  I felt it was a win-win and our team definitely felt the win when I shared that we were improving our policy.  

I hope these steps and examples give you the tools and courage needed to ask for what you want at work.  I also would love to hear any examples of success that you have had.  Your example may be the exact situation someone reading this needs to solve.  Please share in the comments section so we can all benefit from our network of experts.


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