Ask for What You Want

Sep 4th, 2017

“We don’t improve by simply living. We have to be intentional about it.”

John C. Maxwell


September often brings a mood of focus and determination, at both business and personal level. Holidays are an opportunity to reflect on your ambitions, and to gear yourself up to make them happen. The challenge often arises when you get back to the workplace: how do you concretely ask for what you want?


Two of my clients recently got the promotions they really wanted. One secured a global role two years prior than she had previously predicted. The other has been appointed CEO of a new organisation although his experience was less conventional than other candidates. What made the difference to both of them was the considerable investment they made in preparing their requests and conducting the negotiations.


I was addressing this issue in the summer with two senior executives. One works in the legal sector and the other in a consumer organisation, both remarkable women and highly successful operators. When each walked into the room for their meeting with me, I was surprised and curious to see how their respective statures had changed since our previous meetings. Their energy was low. What could have happened?


One of them had made a request for a new challenge that had been unsuccessful. She had achieved considerable success and felt she was plateauing in her current role. She had made a similar request a year earlier, been given a pay rise, but no job change.  


The other had been presented by her CEO with plans that she had not been involved in.  She was concerned that her place in his trusted circle was threatened, and this was having a negative effect on her relationship with him.


As we talked, I identified that in both cases, my clients’ emotional reactions to these situations –  disappointment, frustration – had tipped them into passive behaviour.


The challenge was: how to help both executives ask for what they wanted.


Here at the six steps I worked through with each of them:


  1. Awareness is the first step to action

First, check if you have inadvertently slipped into ‘victim’ mode. My client in the consumer organisation was second-guessing why her CEO had not included her, causing a negative spiral of self-doubt. Once she recognised this was a story she was creating in her own mind, she was ready to take her power back.


  1. With that awareness, create a mind-set of clarity

Get clear about what you want. By that I mean, find your motivation. Your motivation is your fuel. If you are running out of fuel and using the reserve, sooner or later you will come to a halt. My consumer client identified that she wanted to regain her place as a valued and trusted member of the Senior Management team, and to maximise her contribution. My legal client realised that she had only been focusing on one opportunity within her existing department. She recognised she had choices. This broadened her thinking and made her open to new possibilities.


  1. With that clarity, prepare for the conversation

I am constantly struck by how people don’t prepare for an important conversation. Important conversations require investment – do your research, prepare your language, anticipate different outcomes and your responses, and practise. Be crystal clear what you are requesting and the business case that supports this. If you are unsure how to begin, start with: “May I make a request?” It is highly unlikely your manager will say no. Then, make a clear, unqualified request – what do you want, how will it benefit the business, why do you want it and by when? Think too about your body language and tone and what might happen e.g. talking fast and plan how to manage this.  


  1. Be curious and respectful during the conversation

Pause and listen to the person’s response. If the person resists, do not jump in with a defence. Acknowledge what they say, listen to their viewpoint and be curious. Ask them: “Why do you hold that view?” Focus also on a commitment: “If not now, when?” “Can we meet again to discuss this?” One very useful question is: “What advice would you give me?”  “What do I need to do?” One of my clients was told that she needed to build a better relationship with 2 board members – valuable information that she is now working on.


  1. Follow-Up with Grace

Do not wait for your manager to follow up. Send an email acknowledging what you discussed in a gracious manner. If you have received a categorical refusal, you now have information – clarity enables you to make decisions. One of my former clients in the financial services sector explained after an important conversation: ‘I now know there is no plan for me, I am not part of the succession plan.’ Instead of dwelling on the negative, we examined her choices. She discovered several new routes and is now in a new role which is advancing her career in a different part of the organisation.


  1. Find a Sponsor

Being competent is not always enough. You need to have people of influence in your corner who are championing you and actively creating opportunities for you to advance your career due to the respect they have for you. Actively build relationships now with those key stakeholders who will recognise your value. A useful book is on this subject is Find a Sponsor by Sylvia Ann Hewlett.


If you want to progress you career asking for what you want effectively is a crucial skill and investing time in preparing for key negotiations will often influence the outcome.


Potential Plus International offers bespoke Executive and Team Coaching Programmes that are built around the goals and aspirations our clients want to achieve.

See more of what our clients say.

Oona Collins