Asking Your Manager for What You Need

By: Alisha Sedor

Even the best, most well intentioned manager can’t read your mind, so it’s essential to be able to articulate and an advocate for the things that you need in the workplace. At the end of the day, making the right asks benefits everyone - you'll be able to produce your best work because you have what you need to do so, and your employer gets you at your best.

Back in February, Emma covered some basics on asking for what you're due. I wanted to expand on that some and talk about crafting the ask itself to increase your likelihood of success.

So, how does one get what they need?

The key for me has often been making it easy for your manager (or board of directors, or colleague, or even partner…) to say yes. My method has 5 parts, and there’s no guarantee that what you're asking for is doable. But, this process makes sure you do everything in your control to get to the yes, and then it’s on the other person. For me, sometimes it’s hard to recognize when things aren’t in my control and let those things go; sing this structure gives me a foundation to say, “Ok Alisha, you did everything you could."

I base big or difficult asks I'm making off of the 5 step method that includes what are basically micro-negotiation tactics. This is because negotiations aren't limited to salaries and contracts. You can utilize negotiation-like tactics to create the things you need and want in the workplace. This includes job sculpting, learning opportunities, personal needs and accommodations, proposals for projects or initiatives you'd like to undertake, and a whole host of other things.

Alisha's 5 Step Get to Yes Model

  • Design
  • Research
  • Pre-wire
  • Partner
  • Forward-solve

1. Design & 2. Research

These first two steps are inextricably intertwined. Bustle said it best, "Don't just walk into your boss's office with a request and let them do the legwork to make it happen. When you rely on someone else to move you ahead, you could end up waiting a long time.” By coming with a plan, you make it easier for your manager to make that happen. Take the time to craft what you're going to say in advance and put some research behind it so that you have the information you need to discuss it in detail. I put steps 1 and 2 together here because you'll often draft the ask, do some research, go back to your draft, and on it goes until you feel that you've got a good foundation for your ask.

Your plan should include:

  • What you need and why
  • The benefits to the team/company
  • How this will get done and what work you're going to do to make it happen
  • What you need from your manager
  • Specific timeline

Ok, what might that look like?

  • What you need and why: I want to take on a project that involves creating a deck and giving a presentation because I want to grow my public speaking skills.
  • Benefits to the team/company: I’ll become more comfortable presenting information to the team at our weekly meeting, so I’ll be more effective at communicating information about upcoming marketing initiatives.
  • How this will get done and what work you're going to do: I will make sure I have capacity to take on the project, working it around my other deadlines, prepare the materials, and present at an upcoming opportunity.
  • What you need from your manager: I'm having trouble finding projects that would allow me to practice this - could we brainstorm some opportunities together?
  • Be specific on timeline: I'd like to pick up a new project in the next 2 weeks so I can kick-off practicing this regularly.

Have your BATNA ready

A BATNA is the best alternative to a negotiated agreement, or in layman's terms: If it's not possible, what can happen instead? In addition to researching and laying out your primary ask, it helps a lot to be ready with secondary asks that will also get you some of what you need just in case. Using our example, think about how you might be able to grow that public speaking skill in other ways if there's no upcoming project with a public speaking component. Could you present it classroom-style to just your boss? Is there an online course you could take on work time? Perhaps a volunteer opportunity? Give your manager a few alternatives if the first option is outside the bounds of what's possible.

3. The Pre-Wire

We've talked about the pre-wire before in this blog. That's because it's so important and helpful. The idea is to get everyone in the same headspace to have a productive discussion. Whether it's about feedback or asking for things, both parties will be more apt to participate productively rather than getting defensive if they're aware that a discussion is coming. Catching your boss on their heels with a big ask is more likely to throw them than set you up to discuss details.

Select the medium that works best for you and your company norms - it might be Slack, leaving a note in your shared 1:1 document, in person, an email, etc. However you and your manager typically communicate. Utilize your established communications norms - think about how you usually communicate with your manager and, depending on the ask, how tone might be perceived.  You don’t need to do something out of the ordinary to let them know you’re making an ask.

You can say something like, “In our next 1:1 I’d like to discuss [my hours, learning opportunities, making time for a project, taking some time to spend with family, future opportunities].” This lets them know what you'd like to chat about so they can be prepared while also leaving space to discuss the details in person.

4. Partner

Know Your Stuff

This ties closely with your Design and Research steps as well, but it's really important to know your stuff when making your ask and make it a partnership. What company policies might limit what your boss is able to do? Is there a precedent of similar requests being granted to other people? What are the tradeoffs?

You'll also want to define the impact, and focus on the mutually beneficial. How is this good for everyone involved? For example: By getting more flexibility in your hours, does that mean that you'll end up taking fewer days off to attend activities for your kids? Or, as we laid out in our model ask above, will you become better at one portion of your job by getting to practice in another project or getting more training? Illustrating it as a win/win can gain a lot of ground.

Know Who You're Asking

I also recommend knowing the person you're asking. What motivates them and what would be appealing as part of your ask? What are they accountable for? How can you make them look good by implementing this ask? Build a clear bridge between what you're asking for and what you manager needs. Are they responsible for the number of customer contacts you handle per day and you want to work from home once/month? Offer to pilot it for 2 months and show that you're more productive on WFH days than in the office and agree to end the accommodation if ever your productivity slips below a certain threshold on your WFH days. They still might not be able (or willing) to accommodate the ask, but at the least you've tied it directly to what they're responsible for and illustrated the potential opportunity.

Know Yourself

If you're making a tough ask, stay calm and keep your emotions at bay to the extent that you can. I like to center using Calm's Breathe Bubble for 60 seconds before an important meeting. Do what works for you - breathing exercises, going for a walk, power poses, practicing asking in front of a mirror are all great tactics.

5. Forward-Solve

The last step is forward-solving. Again, something you'll want to tie back to your research phase. This is all about anticipating why your boss might say no and have answers ready for those. You can utilize your BATNA here, ask your boss why they're saying no to something and see if there's some sort of compromise, or define the impact of what might happen if you don't get the thing you're asking for (not a threat but outlining facts). Perhaps they'll say no to your request for an education stipend to take a coding class because it's not in the budget. Anticipating that no, you can let them know that without the class you won't be able to communicate as clearly with your Engineering Team which is frustrating for both teams - perhaps instead you could dedicate 2 hours/week of time at work on the course instead of having it paid for. This both outlines impact and includes a BATNA.

Using these steps, your manager very well may still say no to your request, depending on what it is, what the business needs are, and policies that they're working within. You should be prepared for those no's and potentially be ready to accept them. However, with this framework, hopefully you can walk away from the conversation feeling like you prepared the best you could and did everything in your power to get the yes. From there, c'est la vie.

And, Poros is always here if you want some help preparing to make that particularly difficult ask!

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