5 tips for asking for what you want in today’s workplace

You miss 100% of the requests you don’t make.

You can't always get what you want, but the odds are much higher if you ask for it. The economic uncertainty of the past year deterred many employees from asking for promotions and raises, according to an Indeed survey, with women 12.1% less likely to ask for a pay rise and men 8.6% less likely. At the same time, employees became more comfortable asking for increased flexibility at work.

As the world continues to adjust to the COVID-19 pandemic, there has perhaps been no better time to ask for what you want in the workplace, according to Anne Loehr, an author and leadership coach based in Reston, Virginia.

"I can't overstate the importance of asking for what you want," Loehr said. "There's no shame in asking for it, and no shame in not getting it either."

While it never hurts to ask, your request is more likely to be granted if you consider your manager's point of view and approach the situation from a place of clarity and mindfulness. Here are some steps to assertively asking for what you want in the workplace:

Get clear about what you want. Before you approach your boss or manager, you should spend some time figuring out exactly what it is you want. You may think you want a promotion or the option to permanently work from home, but when your request is granted, you might realise it's not what you wanted after all.

"If you want more time off, what exactly does that look like?" Loehr said. "Does it look like a flexible workday? Does it look like remote work? Does it mean you can leave at noon? Simply asking for 'time off' is a bit vague."

Take a moment to get at the root of your request. For example, if you think you want to be placed into a management role, consider the number of people you want to manage, the type of people you want to manage, and what you hope your day-to-day tasks will include. Write it down and review your desired outcomes before talking to management.

"Use your five senses to dig down, meaning what would it look like, sound like, and feel like when you got whatever you wanted," Loehr said.

Outline the benefits for your audience. When framing your request, it can be easy to get caught up in why you want something and forget about why it could also be great for your manager.

"Put some thought into what the benefits are to your manager or colleague if they let you work remotely or take on this assignment," said Amy Vetter, CPA/CITP, CGMA, the CEO of The B3 Method Institute in the US. "Usually, it's something like you will be more effective, more productive, or it will improve performance. That way it's less of asking for a favour and more 'I'm actually helping you out here.'"

If your manager tends to respond well to numbers, you could even calculate the benefits for them. For example, if your productivity increased by 25% while you worked from home over the past year, you could request to continue working from home four days a week in order to maintain a 20% increase in productivity for the remainder of the year.

Customise your approach to your manager. Not all managers are the same, and you might need to tailor your approach to suit their personality and leadership style.

"If you're working with an introvert, you might want to tee up the conversation," Loehr said. "Let them know you want to schedule a time to talk about your career development so at least they won't feel completely ambushed."

In most cases, you will want to have the conversation in person or at least over a video call so you can observe body language, tone, and facial expressions.

"You're always going to interpret emails and written messages based on how you're feeling, and not necessarily on what the other person intended, so meet with them in person or over video," Vetter said.

Before scheduling the conversation, it can also help to figure out the time of day or week your manager is most relaxed and open to suggestion. Don't try to approach them with a request when they seem overwhelmed or stressed, and try to determine whether they will respond better to an emotional, data-driven, or straightforward appeal.

"If you come in armed with a lot of numbers and research, you might just set someone on the defensive," Vetter said. "Not that you shouldn't know what's standard for the industry, but you don't want to come in with threats, and you don't want to come in with assumptions thinking the worst."

Be present during the conversation. Too often people walk into these conversations preoccupied with their own thoughts and worries, and fail to be truly present, according to Vetter.

"Just be in the present moment, accept the conversation as it is, ask a lot of questions, and show compassion for your boss," Vetter said.

Vetter recommended taking a few minutes of silence without distractions before the conversation to get into a positive and relaxed mindset. And during the conversation, make a point of listening to what your manager is saying and then try to get underneath their answers to pinpoint their "why". If their reasoning is unclear, try asking your question in different ways and use open-ended questions without revealing your opinion, to encourage them to be frank about their thought process.

Follow up after allowing time to process. It's very possible that your request won't be immediately granted during the initial meeting, and that's OK.

"This is a conversation, not a one-off, and it's probably going to be multiple conversations," Loehr said.

If your manager or boss doesn't give you an immediate yes, tell them you would like to schedule a time a few days, weeks, or months later to pick up the conversation after you both have had some time to think things over. If they immediately refuse your request, you could ask to schedule another meeting to discuss their reasons for that.

"Don't necessarily expect a resolution in that moment, but set a time for when you will have that follow-up meeting, giving yourself time to decompress, think about the conversation, and maybe take some other people's input before you come back with your answer," Vetter said.

Hannah Pitstick is a freelance writer based in the US. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Drew Adamek, an FM magazine senior editor, at