Here’s a situation I encounter often: A client wants something at work, whether it’s a raise, a new leadership role, a coveted assignment or the go-ahead to launch a new project. She knows that what she wants is reasonable and workable.
But she won’t ask for it.
Vanessa K. Bohns, a professor of organizational behavior at Cornell University, says this fear about asking may come from how companies are structured. "Because most companies emphasize the rigidity and formality of their hierarchies, employees tend to assume that their influence is dependent upon their roles or titles — that if they lack official clout, they can’t ask for anything," she writes in Harvard Business Review.
And women tend to have more issues around asking than men do.
"Women don’t ask," Jean Clemons, a lecturer at Wharton on management communication, told attendees at the school’s Women in Business conference. "Men ask for things — whether it’s jobs, raises, projects, engagements — two to three times more than women."
If the idea of asking for something at work makes you nervous, take heart: You can become more comfortable with making requests, and increase your odds of getting a "yes." Consider these three aspects of "the ask."
1. It's all in how you show up. Worries about how they’ll be perceived can stop women from asking for what they want. They’re concerned the person on the receiving end of their request will think they’re too assertive, aggressive or focused on themselves. If this keeps you from asking for something, think about how you want to be perceived — in other words, how you want to show up.
Let’s say you’re concerned your request will make others think you’re self-centered. Before you ask for what you want, think about what you can say and do to help others understand that your request is about something bigger. How can you connect what you want to what benefits your team, your department or the business as a whole? What kind of language would convey that message?
2. Protecting the relationship. Another fear that can hold women back from asking for what they want is the fear the request will damage their relationship with the other person. To get past that anxiety, first think about the kind of relationship you want with that person. For example, do you want a partnership or are you focused on conveying respect? The kind of relationship you want will determine how you make your request. What words or supporting materials convey your approach to the relationship?
3. Losing your fear of "No." Sometimes you might talk yourself of out of asking for something by assuming the other person will say no anyway, so it isn’t worth putting yourself out there. But, according to Bohns’ article, you probably have a better chance of getting a positive answer than you think.
It's often harder for people, even bosses, to say "No" than "Yes," she writes. "Because we’re not attuned to others' motivation to help us, we limit our ambitions."
Of course, though, you might get a "No." And I find it helps to go into a request knowing the range of possible answers — from "Yes" to "Maybe" to "We need more information" to "No."
Consider all the possible outcomes, and think about how you could use each one to move things forward. Even if your request gets turned down, it could still give you the opportunity to get a point across, build support for an idea or gather information that could help you turn a "No" into a "Yes" eventually. "No" isn’t a personal rejection or attack. And it’s not "No, forever."
This week, think about something you’ve been hesitant to ask for.
Views expressed in blogs, posts and user comments are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Network of Executive Women or its Officers, Board members and corporate partners.