Thursday, July 28, 2011

Ask For What You Want

I was recently coaching a non-native English-speaking client who expressed disappointment that he did not receive the response he wanted from his manager. In his case, he wanted an invitation to present his data at a particular meeting. When I probed about the language he used in his request, he said, “I didn’t actually ask. I thought my manager would know I wanted to be there.”
Never assume people will read your mind

Managers and coworkers are busily focused on their projects and their issues. They don’t have time to speculate about what you want. Thus, the responsibility is on you to make a positive and clear request.

Some people, especially shy individuals or those from cultures where such a request might be interpreted as questioning authority, think such straightforward, positive communication is impolite. In reality, is the most respectful and beneficial way of relating to your workplace colleagues.

A clear request respects your manager, and it benefits you

·        You give your manager an opportunity to see the benefit to him/her and to the organization of considering your request.
·        You don’t waste energy by regretting your silence, or by bemoaning a missed opportunity.
·        You display a confident attitude that will earn you respect, even if your manager doesn’t agree with you.

How to make a request that is respectful and positive

Let’s use as an example my client’s situation: He is a chemical engineer who did considerable validation testing in order to provide critical and complex data about a new process that was being considered for adoption. 

He sent the data as a PowerPoint slide set in an email attachment to his manager (as requested). He simply wrote: “Here’s the data you requested for the meeting.” He knew he could give a thorough explanation of the data and answer detailed questions that were sure to arise at the meeting. He assumed his manager would want him there. However, the engineer did NOT specifically request in his email (or later when passing his manager in the hallway) that he attend the meeting. Thus, his manager went alone and presented the engineer’s data.

How my client could have more effectively communicated his request to his manager

·        Send the test results, along with an email that says:
o       “I would like to attend the meeting with you to present the data. I anticipate numerous questions about the complex test results, and I’d like to be there to help you field the questions.”
·        Offer in the email to go over the data with his manager in advance of the meeting: 
o       “I’d like to meet with you to go over the slides to be sure I’ve included all of the data that will be discussed at the meeting.”
·        Follow up in person with his manager – either by setting up a phone meeting if they are not in the same office, or by stopping by his manager’s desk.

Note that the engineer is professional and positive, and he shows why the request is valuable to his manager. Most likely his manager would welcome his attendance at the meeting, since his expertise and grasp of the issues would make the manager look good, and ensure a win a decision at the meeting.

A helpful template for communicating clearly what you want

Here are some tips for making a request that is clear and positive, and has a good chance of being accepted. Remember that even if you don’t get what you want, a clear request will likely elicit a clear response. That, too, is helpful in understanding your manager and your work environment.
1.      Be laser-focused on what it is that you want. For example:
a.      “I would like to call a follow-up meeting for next Monday.”
b.     “I am requesting a summer intern for 10 weeks.”
c.      “I would like to travel to Texas to meet face to face with our customer.”
2.      Immediately follow your request with a statement of WHY this request is important to you, your manager, and to the project/organization.
a.      “The follow-up meeting will enable me to personally walk the team through the additional test data they requested.”
b.     “An intern can run the test scenarios so that we stay on schedule.”
c.      “Our customer is nervous about the product spec changes, and I want to reassure them we’re meeting their needs and timeline.”
3.      Then listen to your manager.  Be prepared to justify your request with details. (specific meeting agenda, costs, etc.)

To summarize, ask for what you want, be clear about why your request makes sense for the organization, and be prepared to justify your request.  And always be positive!

I welcome your comments and questions.

Jolinda Osborne

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