How To Ask For What You Want (And Get It!)

By Karen Laos

When I was six years old, my dad gave me a few dollars at a flea market and told me to go have fun and never pay full price. He taught me one simple action: to ask.

I learned the power of negotiation through that experience and a whole world of possibilities was opened to me, which I’ve taken into my career working with clients like Google, NASA, Sony, and Starbucks.

Dad used to always say, “If you don’t ask, you won’t get,” and “the squeaky wheel gets the grease.” 

What I’ve learned from him and now my experience is this: Why not ask? It works!

Tip #1: Make the ask. 

If you stay quiet, you’ll never know what might have happened. Too many women hold back from asking as they don’t want to be judged, or they’re afraid of rocking the boat, or they ultimately fear being rejected. I get it. It’s vulnerable to ask for something, but, wouldn’t you rather take the risk than wonder? 

It might sound something like this: 

“Hi Boss, I’d like to talk about my career progression. Can we set up a conversation? If that works for you, I’ll put something on your calendar (or, “here are a few proposed times. Which works best for you?”). 

“Thanks for making the time. I know we’re shooting to expand the marketing department and I’d like to help with that. It’s timely as my goal is to be a Senior Director by X date, and I could serve at a higher capacity in that role. Can we create a plan together to help me get there? From your perspective, what’s working well for me now, and what could I do better? I want to ensure I close any gaps so I can get there as soon as possible. I’m highly motivated and want to move up quickly. What do you think?”

Tip #2: Speak with confidence.

One of my favorite negotiation stories was when I had been an HR supervisor at Gap Inc in San Bruno, California, and I had the opportunity to interview for an HR Director at an architecture firm. This was a big move for me early in my career. I was able to negotiate one of the highest paying salaries for people in that role. Here’s how I did it:

  • I spoke with confidence. Specifically, I had conviction in my voice and spoke like I knew what I was talking about. No one feels confidence from you if you’re hesitant, halting or wavering in your speech. Speak with volume and strength.

Tip #3: Focus on what matters to your audience.

  • I thought about what mattered to the company. What did they care about and how could I create a bridge between my skills/experience to their needs? I focused on them and what they were looking for. Communicating that bridge is key as you want the hiring manager or decision maker to picture you in the role. If you’re already solving problems for them in the interview process, imagine how much more you’ll do on the job! They needed someone more dedicated to training and I loved training, so it was a natural match.

Tip #4: Push through the fear and take the risk anyway.

  • You have very little to lose when you ask, and if you do it with consideration to the other party, you’ll keep your reputation intact even if they say “no.”
  • In my example, I asked for a signing bonus, more vacation time, and the high end of the salary range. I got it all. Here are some other things you can ask for: Flex schedule, remote work, promotion within X period of time, exposure to the executive team.
  • If you’re looking for some phrases to use, try:

“Can we get closer to…?”

“I was looking for the high end of the range…”

“What else besides salary would you be able to offer?”

Tip #5: Be irresistible.

  • When your approach is considerate, kind, and friendly while being reasonable, it’s hard to go wrong. Remember to have a lightness to your expression so you come across as open and inviting. Have a “for” stance: be collaborative in your approach, meaning show that you are “for” them and that you’re in this together. It’s not an “us vs. them” thing. It’s all about relationships and building those connections.

Above all else, go for it and ask. You’ll likely be more sorry that you didn’t! Let me know what tips worked for you and feel free to reach out with questions. I love to hear from you!

Karen Laos, Communication Expert and Confidence Cultivator, leverages 25 years in the boardroom and speaking on the world’s most coveted stages such as Google and NASA to transform missed opportunities into wins. She guides corporations and individuals with her tested communication model to generate consistent results for women leaders through her Leadership Presence Keynote: How to Be an Influential Communicator. See more of Karen’s work via her website.

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