How To Ask for What You Want

Speaking at the Women's Alliance of Xerox annual meeting

Public speaking — and effective communication in general — is always about preparation. So really, the title of this post should be…

How To Prepare to Ask for What You Want

I shared these tips at the annual conference of The Women’s Alliance of Xerox:

When You Ask for What You Want, You’re Starting a Negotiation!

You’re not asking for a favor.

You’re not a supplicant, in a one-down position.

Instead, you’re opening a conversation — a negotiation — so that you and the person you’re talking to can find common ground between what they want and what you want.

The classic example of this is asking for a raise. In this situation,

  • I want to maximize my income (or other benefits); and
  • My manager wants to save the company money while keeping me happy enough that I won’t leave.

Knowing that they want to save money and need to keep me happy will help me craft a realistic and effective “ask” — one that,

  • Points out my benefit to the company
  • Gently reminds them that I have other options, and
  • Explains how they can get what they want (a satisfied, productive employee) by giving me what I want (that raise, promotion, plum assignment, etc.)

How do you get to the point where you’re ready to make that pitch?

Follow These Five Steps to an Effective Ask

Here’s a process that will prepare you to ask for what you want. (I’ve carried through with the example of asking for a raise, but the process is equally effective when you want a promotion, an exciting assignment, time off, better working conditions, or help from your family with household chores!)

1. Know Your Value — What do you bring to your company or team that they would otherwise have to do without? What have you accomplished for them? Can you put a dollar figure on the clients you’ve won, the time you’ve saved through good management? Even intangibles like increasing team morale can sometimes be quantified (“our team lost only one member last year; the other teams all lost two or more”)

2. Do Your Research — What do others at your level, in your field, get paid? How fast have others in your company been promoted? Are you being fairly compensated (often, women and people of color are not)?  Should you be making more than others, because you supervise more people, manage more projects, or have special expertise?

3. Develop Your Strategy — You know your manager! Are they best approached at 8am on Monday morning? Over drinks on Thursday night? After a difficult project has wrapped? Should you make an appointment, or have a casual conversation? Do they need time to process, or pressure to decide? And WHAT is the argument that will win them over? (To answer this question, think about The Four Public Speaking Personalities.)

4. Plan Your Speech — Don’t leave this important conversation to chance! Work out what you’re going to say (perhaps using the Instant Speech format), and then…

5. Practice, Practice, PRACTICE

You’re now ready to prepare an ask.

But there may be one more thing standing in your way: feelings.

Ask For What You Want, Even If You’re Uncomfortable

If you’re like me (and many of my clients) you may agree with asking in theory but feel uncomfortable actually doing it.

You may, for example, not want to ask because of thoughts like:

  • “If they say no, I won’t be able to handle my feelings of anger, hurt, disappointment, or whatever.”
  • “They would have already offered if they thought I deserved it.”
  • “My value should be obvious, I shouldn’t have to ask.”
  • “They should know what I want or need without me telling them.”

These thoughts and feelings come from the Nasty Little Voice in your head that most of us hear from now and then. And what I like to tell me clients about the NLV is,

Give that voice the attention it deserves. Which is zero.

So acknowledge your feelings, but don’t give them power. Don’t focus on them or take them seriously; and above all, don’t let them dictate your actions.

Instead, put your feelings aside, do your preparation, and then go out and ask for what you want.

That’s the best way to get it.

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