I wanted to talk about this topic for the specific reason that I suck at it. In principle, I totally agree that we ought to just ask for what we want, with a balance of consideration and straightforwardness. In theory, I totally know how to do that. In reality, I am not a particularly forward person, avoid initiating conversations when possible, and am loathe to inconvenience anyone. But to succeed in the big wide world of adulting, learning to ask is a crucial skill.
A little while back I was babysitting for a family, and at the end of the night the parents wrote me a check. I was doing that weird polite-but-risky thing where I didn’t look at it while I was standing in front of them, until they asked me if that was the right amount. I looked at it (and had thankfully already done the math of what I should have been paid), and they accidentally underpaid me. I cautiously let them know, and they apologized and fixed the issue. Fortunately they had been proactive for me, but it made me realize how poor I am at ensuring I get what I’m after in some situations.
More recently, I asked for both this last Friday and next Friday off to accommodate some personal plans. Other than occasionally asking to leave a half-hour early to make another commitment on time, I don’t like asking for time off. For starters, I don’t like voluntarily lowering my paycheck, but I also feel bad leaving the people I work for hanging. So asking for time off was weird, and I admittedly hedged the request a bit with “if it’s alright with you” and similar phrases, but my employer was totally cool with it.
Obviously, not all situations work out so well or are even so straightforward. For a job that I was working at in college, I realized a few months in that I wanted a higher compensation than I was getting for the amount of work I was doing. So I came up with a range for how much more I wanted, brought it up with my bosses, and we sorted it out.
I realize that was three success stories in a row, and am very aware they don’t always work out like that. There have been several times when I’ve asked for something and the person I was asking didn’t give me an answer at all, or flat told me no. It’s awful when that happens, and can mean that it might be time to examine the situation you’re in and see if something larger needs to change.
It’s also important to clarify that not all things need to be asked: If you are being made to feel uncomfortable or unsafe, you have the right to remove yourself from that situation. Your mental, physical, and emotional health are important, and no one gets to make your decisions for you.
But of course some things — especially work-related, such as payment negotiations and time off — need to be asked for. I promise that the more you practice the easier it will get. And the better we all get at it, the less difficult it will be when new generations are going through the same process.
As silly as it sounds, the most important thing I’ve learned when it comes to asking for what I want (besides the asking itself) is to prepared by knowing exactly what I want ahead of time. Not every instance has to play out like a negotiation, but you should know what your ideal is and the least you’re willing to accept before you ask, so you’ll be less likely to end up with a result you’re unhappy with.
I hope that was helpful, and I’d love to hear what helps you ask for what you want. Let me know in a comment below, and be sure to follow on Twitter @ohgrowup and Instagram @oh.grow.up. Thanks for reading, and good luck adulting!