Or, do you hedge by asking for what you think you can get?
Asking for what I want – boldly, directly, clearly – is a skill I’ve had to cultivate over the years. And while I am much better at it now (and more comfortable with doing so), it’s still a work-in-progress.
Maybe you’re like me.
Or, perhaps you fall into the camp of those that would probably say “this is a skill they didn’t know they didn’t have.”
These are the folks who conflate making a request with really asking for something. This is when the ask is more of a hint (it would be nice if you did x) rather than a specific ask (will you please do x). Can you relate to this example either because you’ve been on the receiving end of this hint camouflaged as an ask, or because you’re the one doing it?
Let’s face it: You and I ask for things all.day.long. But asking for what you really want is hard!
Yet, doing so is at the heart of every single negotiation, regardless of what’s being negotiated or with whom. This is one of the key reasons why I said, last time, that negotiating is such an inward focused exercise.
In fact, before you read further, think about the number of times just this day, this week or this month, you didn’t fully ask for what you wanted — something caused you to pause and hedge. Walk down memory lane not in the spirit of self-judgment; more in the spirit of gathering data about how you ask and what you ask for.
What Makes it Hard
Really asking for what you want is hard for a variety of reasons:
It makes you feel vulnerable.
A lot of people hint and drop innuendos, but they don’t ask. More often than not it’s because they don’t want to feel exposed, which is precisely what a direct, bold, clear ask will do! You might be reluctant to ask because you don’t want to appear demanding, or greedy, or needy, or out of place. Or, you might be reluctant because you’re afraid of hearing “no.”
It requires self-honesty.
Before you can make an unambiguous ask, you have to know what you want and why. You also have to know who is the ideal person/s to help you get what you want. Likewise, it helps if you have clarity around what’s negotiable and what isn’t before you make the ask. Sure, you can always change your mind regarding the ask or the people involved, but a lack of specificity concerning these details can hinder your ability to get what you want, how you want it.
And to better see the bridge between your ask and what it is in service to, write out what you want (or at least mentally organize your thoughts). Doing this also helps you to see if what you want will seem reasonable to the other person.
It requires self-awareness.
The very first place you learn to negotiate is at home, with your family. What was that like for you? Are you used to having your wants and needs taken into account? Or, was your experience the opposite? Do you know what words or actions are triggers for when someone is exerting power and makes you feel like you’re being taken advantage of, or when someone is (or isn’t) listening to you, or when someone is looking out for your best interest?
When you reflect back on most of your key negotiations since, what patterns do you notice? And how are they influencing you today?
Do you notice whether it is easier to ask on behalf of others (e.g., you’re fundraising for a charity, or asking for a friend) than it is to ask on behalf of your own interests, wants and needs? What makes this true for you?
No One is Telepathic
When you think about it, asking for what you really, really want (and yes, the Spice Girl song just popped into my head…don’t judge me!) takes a lot of courage!!
Granted, asking someone to scoot over on the subway isn’t as high stakes as asking a boss for a raise or a client for their business or for someone’s hand in marriage. But, all scenarios where you’re directly, boldly and clearly asking for something comes with an element of risk.
But since no one can read your mind, if you want something, you gotta ask for it. And the clearer, the better.
Now, I could be snarky and suggest that to get better at asking, just ask. However, that oversimplifies the learned behavior you and I bring to the various situations where we are negotiating and need to ask for what we want.
Therefore, let me leave you with a few ideas to make the experience of really asking a little bit better:
- Make it safe for the other person to say, “no.” Especially if the relationship is important to you, make sure they know that their “no” won’t damage the relationship.
- Pay attention to how you ask. There’s a great deal of power in beginning an ask with, “Would you be willing…?” (I’ve been practicing this lately when asking for help with spreading the word about the upcoming pricing retreat.)
- Pay attention to the other person. We’re going to dive into this in the next portion of this series. But for now: gauge the “room.“ Whether literally or metaphorically in terms of how they engage you via written communication. Make sure you’re tuning into the other person, because they are giving you clues about what’s going on with them and whether the timing of your ask is right for them. What clues are you picking up?
- Talk about what you want…with everybody! Let others in on what you want, especially if they have nothing to do with helping you get what you want. This may seem counter-intuitive or counter-productive, but it turns out to be a great way to practice for when you are in front of those to whom you do need to make a direct, bold, clear ask of.
You’ve had enough life experiences to know that you will not always get what you want. But you sure as heck won’t get what you don’t ask for. And as long as your ask isn’t harming another, it is most certainly acceptable for you to ask for what you want.
So, don’t hedge. Don’t kinda ask. Don’t hint. Don’t ask for what you think you can get. Be direct, bold, clear and ask for what you really, really want.