We’ve all heard the expression, “it doesn’t hurt to ask.” But
what if it can and does?
While it’s true that you won’t get what you don’t ask for,
it’s also true that requests help form others’ impressions of us. Some asks may
seem high maintenance and create the impression that we’re difficult to work
with. Other requests may create the impression that we’re out of touch or entitled.
Be brave in what you ask for but also be judicious and aware of how requests
may impact others.
So, what shouldn’t you ask for at work? That’s a hard question
to answer. What’s appropriate in one environment may not be ok in another. I’ll
provide some guidance for most work environments below.
Don’t ask for anything that requires your boss to break the
rules or treat you differently from other employees. This may seem obvious, but
I’ve been asked for things that I couldn’t legally provide. A candidate asked
me to write her a monthly check towards her personal health insurance plan versus
her participating in our company-sponsored health insurance plan. It’s an
innocent request but put me in a very awkward position and I said no.
Here are a few do’s and don’ts to follow when making requests:
Don’t ask for or take time off during the busiest times of
the year. Ask your boss what those busy times are and then plan accordingly.
Don’t ask for exceptions unless you’re desperate – being paid
in advance to cover unforeseen personal expenses, time off you haven’t earned, unless
It’s regularly permitted in your company, using company resources for personal
use. All of these may seem acceptable in the moment, but if they make your boss
bend or break the rules, they’ll likely make you look bad too.
Be brave. Be bold. And be careful what you ask for. Your reputation is more important than a request that feels important right now but will be insignificant by next year.
Last week I was chased down in the hallway by a conference participant. She told me that she and her husband bickered about (his) driving all the way to the conference. After three hours of bickering, she knew she needed to discuss how to handle driving disagreements in the future, and asked me how. I told her, “The time to fix a relationship, is when there is nothing wrong.”
Talking with another person when you’re upset, often leads to more upset. Emotions and conversations escalate quickly. The more upset you are, the more likely you are to say things you’ll regret. The time to alter how you work, live, and communicate with someone, is when there is nothing wrong.
Pick a time when things are calm and when no one is upset. Tell the other person that you want to talk about how you work together, manage disagreements, make decisions, handle disappointments, etc. Share what you have observed in the past and make requests. Brainstorm solutions together. You’ll have a much better conversation when you’ve had time to calm down from whatever happened to create the need for the conversation.
Waiting to have a conversation until you’re not upset creates the risk of waiting too long to address concerns. The right time to talk about a breakdown is as soon after an event as you can. When both people are calm and have time to have the conversation, usually within a few days of a challenge.
There is no talking to my two-year old about why I took away a toy when I do it. He’s too upset. I need to wait to talk to him about why I did what I did and what I want him to do next time, when he’s calm. Typically, that’s later the same day. Adults may take a little longer. But this isn’t a pass to wait six weeks, which is what we often do. The conversation won’t be as hard or as bad as you think, if you talk when you’re calm and speak from what the relationship needs.
Speaking from what the relationship needs is saying just what you need to, not more and not less, to resolve the challenge and create a better way to handle things in the future. And communicating in a kind and direct way, so the other person can take in what you have to say.
Men get a bad rap for going to the man-cave and coming out to talk when they’re ready. This has a lot of wisdom. Don’t talk if you’re not ready.
Agree upon better ways for handing challenges when no one is upset. Speaking directly, calmly, caringly and with the desire to make things work, typically has a positive result.
If you work with other people, there is likely at least one business relationship you wish was stronger. If only that person included you on necessary communications, didn’t gossip about you, or gave you honest feedback versus telling you everything is fine and then working around you.
What often makes work hard isn’t the work at hand, but the people we work with – the power struggles, cc-reply-to-all when everyone doesn’t need to know, and the gossip that pervades most organizations.
You need to communicate and work well with the people you work with regularly. And like any relationship, business relationships require work. But what happens when someone doesn’t return your efforts for a positive working relationship? S/he doesn’t return emails or voicemails, ignores requests, and/or goes above you instead of coming to you when issues arise?
Make three attempts at strengthening a business relationship.
I’ll attempt to strengthen a business relationship three times before giving up. Phone calls and in-person meetings count as an attempt to improve a relationship, emails and text messages don’t. Emails and texts are passive, one sided communications. If you’re serious about strengthening a relationship, talk with the person, either in person or over the phone.
The conversation could go something like, “We’re going to be working together a lot this quarter, I thought it would be helpful to talk through how we both like to communicate and who will do what. When is a good time to spend a few minutes to discuss?”
Or, you could say, “Lots has happened in the past year – good and bad. I thought it would be helpful to talk about what did and didn’t work this year, so next year can be smooth. Would you be interested in having that conversation?”
Or, perhaps, “I want to talk with you about how we work together. I think we both know that this past year was hard. I’d love for us to have a good working relationship. Would you be willing to have lunch with me to discuss how we want to work together next year?”
It doesn’t so much matter what you say, as long as you start the conversation. Relationships don’t just improve by chance.
I’ll make attempts like those above three times (with the same person). If the person doesn’t reach back, says no, or cancels three scheduled meetings, I give up. Don’t chase people. The people who are interested in fostering a good working relationship with you will make the time and be willing to be uncomfortable.
What does it mean to give up? You are not the Golden Retriever of the workplace. Nor are you the 7-11 – always open. If someone isn’t interested in talking with me about how we can improve our relationship, I don’t keep asking. After the third no, I’m polite. I include the person in all necessary meetings and communications. I’m professional. But I don’t keep inviting. You can’t work with someone who won’t work with you.
Extend an olive branch. Be forthcoming, brave, and yourself. And if you get three nos’, go to lunch with someone else.
Frustrated by a control freak, micromanager, or a high-need-to-know type? Controlling behavior stems from a need that isn’t being met. Identify the need, meet it, and your life gets easier.
This is similar to what sales people learn during good sales training. The customer wants to buy the car but doesn’t. She visits the dealership three times, but just can’t pull the trigger. She has some sort of a concern. If the sales person can identify the concern, he can possibly resolve it, and sell the car. Working with control freaks is the same.
If someone wants more updates, information, or involvement than you’re comfortable with, he has a need that isn’t being met. When you meet the need, the person will likely back off.
I ask the people who work for me to never make me ask for something twice. Meaning, if I ask for an update the week before a speaking engagement, anticipate that I’ll want that information for all engagements. Confirm by asking me and then provide the data without being asked for all future engagements. Getting the information regularly without having to ask builds trust and credibility.
Here are six tips for working with control freaks:
If you don’t know, ask:
Their work-related goals.
What the person is concerned about at work.
How s/he likes to communicate – in-person, email, phone, voicemail, or text.
How often s/he wants information, in what format, and with how much detail.
2. Provide more information than you think you need to, and then ensure the person wants that information in the future.
3. If you’re asked for information, ask why the person wants it, and if s/he wants it in the future. Then provide the information before you’re asked.
4. If someone is overly involved in your work and you feel you have no freedom, state your observation and ask for information. That could sound like, “You’ve been involved with each major decision with this project. I’m used to working with less oversight. Do you have a concern about my approach?” Then you negotiate. Everything is a negotiation.
5. This will put the other person on the defensive. A less confrontational approach is to discuss and agree upon levels of involvement and supervision when projects begin. That could sound something like, “What kind of involvement do you want to have in this project? What do you want to do? What do you want me to do? What kind of updates would you like, how often, and with how much detail?” It’s always easier to prevent a problem than to fix one.
6. Lastly, don’t take anything personally. Oversight and involvement may be a reflection of how someone feels about your performance, but it might not. When in doubt, ask.
People are not us; they do things their way, not ours. This is so obvious. Yet violated expectations are consistently a source of lots of frustration and upset, both personally and professionally. “How could you not check your work before submitting information to a client?” “What do you mean you didn’t call that person back?” “You said what?!”
The most frequent request we get at Candid Culture is for feedback training. The call usually goes something like this, “The communication isn’t great at our company. Managers don’t give a lot of feedback. People don’t talk directly to each other when there are problems, they talk about each other. Can you help?”
Sure, we can help. But once we’re having this conversation people are already frustrated. Trust has been violated and relationships and reputations have been damaged. Instead of waiting for problems to occur, expect the unexpected. Set clear expectations before people don’t proofread reports, miss deadlines, and do other things you wouldn’t dream of doing.
How to avoid violated (often unstated) expectations? Ask more questions.
Here are five questions you should ask every person you work with. And if you do, your workplace will have fewer frustrations and violated expectations:
What’s most important that you’re working on right now? What are your goals this quarter?
What are we both working on that we can work on together? Or what should one of us stop working on?
How do you like to communicate? Phone, in-person, by appointment or drop by’s.
How do you like to receive information – email, voicemail, text message or instant messenger?
If I need information from you and I haven’t heard back from you, what should I do, and is it ok to do that?
What are your pet peeves at work? How will I annoy you and not even know it?
How do you like to be interrupted? (You’re going to be interrupted. You might as well have a preference.)
I know. That was seven questions, not five. I could keep going. But this is a good start.
Here’s the philosophy and practice: People aren’t you. Anticipate challenges, breakdowns, and violated expectations, and talk about them before they happen. Make requests. Ask questions.
It’s always easier to ask for what you want than to give feedback.
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