Ask For It – Don’t Wait!

Last week I wrote about not knowing what you want – and why it’s important to get clear about your needs before you ask for anything. The next most important thing I’ve learned from my personal experiences and my friends, colleagues and clients, is that we forget that we have to do the asking part for ourselves.

Here’s a story about someone who knew what she wanted, didn’t get it, and didn’t know why.

Joy ran a successful business selling sewing trim and appliques. One of her clients wanted to expand his wholesale fabric business and bought hers – products, designs, and equipment – bringing her on as the marketing director. When he hired her, he told her she would get a raise in three months.

She felt she was doing a great job but three months came and went with no raise. About seven months into the job, she was feeling mistrustful, doubting her performance, and generally confused.

Then one day…there was a blackout in the building. She said to herself, this is the time for me to go talk to him. She felt that talking to her boss during the blackout was safer than simply walking into his office during a normal business day to ask him about the raise. I asked her why talking to him in the dark was more comfortable than any other time she could imagine. She told me that if he refused to give her the raise, she wanted to be invisible in case she started crying. So… in the dark she went to his office and said, you said you would give me a raise in three months – and I haven’t gotten it. He said, I was waiting for you to ask for it.

Why Can’t You Ask For It? Blame It On The Story In Your Head

Joy and I talked about what she would have done differently if the roles were reversed. She told me that if she had been the boss and the three months were coming up, she would have authorized the raise, maybe meeting with the marketing director or not, but certainly she felt authorizing the raise was an agreement that she made and would honor. As I saw it, she interpreted everything that had transpired about her raise through the lens of her personal beliefs about fairness. The story she created matched her value system, and she started using that story to justify her anger at her new boss and to worry that she might get fired.

Maybe you have some expectations about how your manager or your client should treat you? Or maybe it’s something a little more personal, like your husband’s assurance that he would be around on weekends to help out with the family but it hasn’t happened yet and you are waiting for him to do what he said. When you have expectations of other people, and they don’t come through, do you begin to question yourself?

For Joy the questions were:

  • Did I do a good job?
  • Was my work only adequate and not deserving of this raise?
  • Or even worse, Am I being fired?

People forget, people get busy, and their priorities are not your priorities. In general, forgetting a commitment, agreement or plan is not a reflection of anything you’ve done or didn’t do. All the same, when someone in our lives doesn’t follow through on an agreement or a promise, we immediately leap to blaming ourselves.

We’re missing the strategic middle step: ask for it.

In the book Women Don’t Ask, the authors point out:

  • Women worry that asking, especially asking for something directly, will hurt a relationship;
  • Women believe that someone else is in control. In Joy’s case, she believed her boss should take the initiative;
  • Women are more likely to believe that circumstances are fixed and things can’t be changed. For example, women are more likely to look for a new job rather than try to negotiate for new conditions at their current job.

Here’s a short, simple checklist to help you stop waiting to ask for what you want.

  1. Figure out what you want. Include all the details.
  2. Look at what you wrote. Now create clear, measurable and deliverable outcomes.
  3. Identify the appropriate person and ask for it.
  4. If they say yes, fantastic!
  5. If they say no, then ask them, what do I need to do to make this happen? Remember that No is just one stop on the way to Yes.
  6. Write down the next set of actions you will take and get into gear!
  7. What if it’s NO all the way? You are told there is nothing you can do to get what you want? You’re in the wrong job, relationship, or organization. The sooner you find it out, the better!

I love this story about why it’s always important to follow up a ‘no’ with the question, what do I need to do to make this happen…from A Woman’s Guide To Successful Negotiation: An employee at the Columbia Business School (now a success VP of a Fortune 500 company) believed that life didn’t offer options: you either got something or you didn’t. She observed that some of the students who were rejected for admission to the graduate program met with the Admissions Director and asked her what they could do to gain admission. She told them they would be admitted if they took four semesters of advanced calculus and statistics and got an A in each. Several students did just that and were admitted. This story illustrates one of my key messages: Everything is negotiable.

To your success,


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