Asking for What You Want in the Workplace

Childhood experiences can affect us for a lifetime, whether for good or for bad.  I share one such memory with you as it relates to this month’s topic.  I call it my Lemon Drop Story:

It’s a lazy July afternoon when my grandmother and I strolled into Neibur’s grocery store, in the tiny town of Cobden, Illinois, population 500.  Time has forgotten Cobden and Neibur’s; the store could have easily been a set for a movie set in 1904.  It has wooden floors, baskets of fruit, burlap bags with potatoes and barrels of hard candy.  To my 8-year-old eye, the most important barrel is the lemon drop barrel, I LOVE lemon drops.  Tiny and shy, I stand close to my grandmother and eye the lemon drops.  I am just about ready to summon the courage to ask for some lemon drops, when Mrs. Neibur comments, “Helen you are so lucky to have such a quiet and well-behaved granddaughter, she isn’t like most of the children that come in here throwing a fit for candy!”  My grandmother replies, “Yes, Ethel, we are so fortunate, Kay never asks for anything.”  Those words were like a knife, a reminder that good little girls never ask for anything.  I swallowed my request, as usual, and left the store with only visions of lemon drops.

That day is etched in my memory and behavior.  It has taken me a lifetime to ask for what I want, and it is still an ongoing battle.  The good news is, deep-seated thoughts and behaviors can change!

In my experience coaching women, I have identified the top five reasons why women don’t ask for what they want.  Interestingly, the barriers that block women for asking for what they want are the same for women in traditional workplaces and women entrepreneurs.  The number one culprit is thinking you shouldn’t have to ask for what they want because others should already know their wants and needs.  This thinking is flawed for several reasons.

First and foremost: no one is a mind reader.  You and you alone are responsible for communicating your wants and needs simply because you are the only one who knows.  Even though this basic truth is so simple, I can’t tell you how many times women raise it as the main reason they will not ask for a raise, promotion, or more time off.  Second, your manager likely has a lot on their plate and many other employees in their organization.  If you don’t speak up, it is reasonable for them to assume you are good with the status quo.  Lastly, if you allow others to decide what you want and need, you are yielding your power to control your career path to someone else other than you.

Fear of seeming too greedy also tops the list.  The underlying issue with this feeling is not valuing your work contribution enough.  If this fear plagues you, think about how much time, effort, talent and attention you pour into your work.  Communicating your wants and needs to be fairly compensated or recognized for your competence is not greed.  It is simply logical and reasonable.

Some women are concerned about appearing too needy if they ask for what they want.  This fear is similar to feeling greedy, but centers around personal self-esteem versus competence.  Your relationship history can play into this fear more than you may realize.  Have significant others downplayed your desires as too needy or ‘high-maintenance’ in the past?  Over time, such collective messages build up and can block out the truth; you have every right to ask for what you want and need.  Notice I did not say you are ‘entitled’ to your every want and need, but asking for what you desire in and of itself is not needy.  The key here is discretion.  Repeatedly asking for unrealistic desires will definitely garner a reputation of being needy.  If your request is fair and reasonable given what you do, or are willing to do, in return, then it is not needy.

Some women feel they should wait their turn for reward, recognition or favor.  Perhaps because they came from a large family, are ‘others’ focused, or feel that the wants and needs of others are more important than their own.  Newsflash: if you wait around in the workplace for your turn, you’ll be sitting alone in the same cubicle for a very long time.  Fulfilling your wants and needs is an independent function relative to the timing of when others’ have theirs met.  Being considerate of others is a courtesy issue, always putting the needs of others before your own is an issue of low self-worth.  You are worthy of having your wants and needs met.  Asking, not waiting, is the first step.

A less common, but also not rare barrier some women encounter is that they only speak when spoken to.  The reasons for this can be complex and varied, but overcoming this hurdle is more important than identifying why it’s a problem.  You are not a child of the 50’s!  Rather, you are a grown, capable woman in a career or position with responsibilities who delivers outcomes for your company.  Whether this is in an entry, mid- or upper-level job is irrelevant.  Speaking up and advocating for yourself is a core competency that any employee must possess for their own protection and advancement in the workplace.

You may have identified with one or more of these hurdles, and feel they are legitimate reasons for not asking for what you want.  The reality is that asking for what you want and engaging in self-advocacy actually garners respect.  That’s right, respect.  When you speak up for yourself, you demonstrate confidence to others and send a message that your contributions are worthy.  You may ask, ‘But Kay, how do I do that?’  The answer is to focus on the outcome rather than the process.

Focus on the benefit, not just to you, but to the person you are asking.  Just like any relationship, those in the workplace, or with a client, are give and take.  Before you ask for what you want, consider what benefit the person in a position of power, or your customer, will receive from your request.  For example, your promotion may take a significant amount of work off her plate.  Additional time off may enable you to recharge your batteries or restructure your life a bit to enable a more efficient work process.  With a raise request or fee increase, you could offer to take on additional responsibilities.  Each scenario provides something of significance to the person who has the power to grant your request.

How can you move past your own barrier, and into a state of mind that enables you to be strong in your communication and self-advocacy?  I can help!  Call me today to set up an appointment, and we can work toward a solution together.

©Copyright 2016.  Kay Fittes.  All Rights Reserved.

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