On the blog last week we explored the difficulty many of us have saying ‘no’ and this week’s blog tackles a similar thorny issue. Just as we often find it hard to decline requests – many of us also struggle to make them. It’s a common problem, but one that does seem to be more prevalent in women. (In their book “Women Don’t Ask, Linda Babcock and Sara Laschever reveal that in a study of 78 masters level graduates, male starting salaries were $4,000 higher than female salaries – and only 12.5% of the women had asked for more money as compared with 52% of the men!)
But it’s not just about asking for more money. Whatever the reason for it, many women are reluctant to explicitly express their needs, both at work and at home – and this reticence can cause real problems. Not asking means giving up your power and your agency over your own life. It means you become dependent on luck, or on someone else’s generosity. It means waiting for someone else to work out what you want, why you want it and what form it should take. It means you are not being ‘you’.
In order to take back control over your own destiny, then, you need to be able to create the kind of life and career you want. You need to be able to decide, or at least heavily influence, how your life and work are balanced. You have to consider the terms on which you are prepared to work, and the boundaries that you set to ensure that you have enough time for your family and get the support you need. You need to make sure you are recognised and rewarded for your contribution – both at work and at home.
The way to get all this is – yes, you’ve guessed it – to ask.
It sounds so simple – but obviously it’s harder than it seems. Don’t despair if it doesn’t come naturally to you though – if you treat asking for what you want as a skill, rather than as a personality trait, it means you can learn how to do it. If you adopt the right mindset, practise regularly, and persevere – it is absolutely something you can master.
Follow these steps to learn how to ask for what you want:
1. On a scale of 1 to 10 – where 10 means you find it easy, rate how successful you are at asking for what you want. Don’t panic – there’s no right or wrong answer. If you score 10, then – amazing, you can just read this blog or listen to the podcast out of curiosity! If you’re a 1 then you know you need to pay close attention to everything! Most likely you are somewhere in between – which means you are assertive enough to ask in some areas of your life, but you recognise that there are other areas where you need to learn how to ask more often.
2. Make a list of the types of things you could ask for. One of the most common obstacles to asking for what you want, is that the right questions haven’t even occurred to you. The two classic examples of this are pay rises and promotions. These seem obvious, but there are still many of you out there who think that these are things that are ‘given’, not ‘asked for’. As if they were gifts you should be grateful for. (They’re not!).
List as many things as you can think of. Make sure you cover both home and work. When you’ve exhausted your brain, push yourself to think of ten more requests you could make. Observe people as you go out and about, in conversations, on your favourite Netflix show – start to notice people who ask, and the kind of things they ask for. (For example – you could ask for help [be specific], for a refund, for an introduction…
3. Identify three things from your list of asks above that, if you were successful in getting them, would have a positive impact on your life.
4. Reflect on your beliefs about asking. Remember beliefs are the lens through which you see the world. As an example, if you have the belief that it’s rude to ask, then when you witness someone asking for something, you consider them rude. You will also always avoid asking for something, to avoid feeling like you’re being rude.
Think about the reasons you haven’t yet asked for the three things you have chosen to focus on in 3 above and identify the limiting belief that has stopped you from asking.
5. Now repeat steps 2, 3 and 4 but in relation to something you do or have in the past managed to ask for. List the types of things you ask for with ease, identify three things that had a positive outcome and for each thing identify the reasons you felt able to ask for them. Now identify the positive beliefs behind them.
6. Now you should have examples of both positive and negative beliefs about how to ask. It should be clear that asking is easier when you have a positive belief about it. For example – if you see asking for a promotion with the negative belief that failure means a wholesale rejection of you personally – the stakes will obviously be too high for you to risk asking. If you believe failure to get the promotion as an opportunity for feedback and learning rather than as a reflection of your personal worth, you will be much more likely to ask for it.
7. Practise – spend the next week asking. Try and ask fifty times! Make outrageous requests. Test the reactions. Reflect on how it makes you feel to make these requests. Why does it feel that way? What are your beliefs about asking those particular questions that make it difficult for you? Challenge those beliefs and see if you can reframe them in a more positive way that allows you to ask more easily.
8. Persevere – keep asking, even when (especially when!) you receive a no. See how many ‘no’s you can collect! If you receive a no, ask what it would take to make it a yes. The more refusals you get, the more you will begin to understand that ‘no’ has no power over you. It can’t hurt you. And once you’ve stopped fearing ‘no’ – you can ask for anything!
There are no two ways about it – asking for what you want – especially if you’re not used to it – will be hard. It will make you feel uncomfortable. It might even make you squirm! But like any habit – the more you do it, the easier it will get. Start practising how to ask right now, and commit to making one bold request a month. You won’t regret it, I promise!
For more of my thoughts on how to ask for what you want, tune in to this week’s podcast.