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The Magic in Asking for What You Want


More and more, work is leaving you feeling frustrated, under-appreciated, overwhelmed and even resentful. Inside you're annoyed by something someone else is or isn’t doing. You don’t feel like your boss or peers value what you do and most days you feel like your opinions and contributions are overlooked or downright ignored.

These feelings are starting to make it harder and harder to show up at work each day and you are concerned your performance might be starting to suffer. Perhaps you're ready to snap at a colleague, you daydream of actually punching your business partner, or you are just plain "over" your boss's dismissive attitude. Or, maybe your boss, business partner or colleagues are all fine...perfectly pleasant even. Perhaps there are other things about your job that just aren’t working. You're feeling resentful at having to miss out on your child’s school or sports activities because of your work hours and commute. You are tired of summers slipping away year after year, without you taking so much as a full week off with your family because summer is the “busy” time for your business.

You might take any of these as a sign it’s time to leave a job or shutter a business. You might begin to daydream of turning in your resignation, of telling your boss everything you dislike about him, or simply packing up your desk and walking out, never to return.

I've talked to people who have resigned abruptly (that's putting in nicely) and sure, it felt really great in the moment. But the moment was fleeting, and sometimes the fallout made things pretty difficult afterwards.

I say, rather than burn bridges, we try another approach. If we’ve gotten to the “I dream about throat-punching my boss” phase, we probably don’t have a whole lot to lose by trying something else first!! Whatever the cause of our feelings of overwhelm, frustration and resentment at work, typically they are symptoms of something much bigger.

The most common symptom I see is this: We aren’t asking for what we WANT.

Ask for what you want!

If you are constantly battling feelings of overwhelm, frustration and resentment at work (or in life), you might not be asking enough of the people around you. When you become crystal clear about what you want, what you need, and build up the courage to ask for these things, you soon learn that this can be some pretty powerful magic.

How do you access this magic I speak of? Here are some tips:

Stop pretending to be a Martyr.

Yup, I said it. You need to figure out a way to stop feeling guilty for putting your needs ahead of others. You also need to stop thinking that nobody else is capable of doing some of the things you are currently feeling overwhelmed by. Please drum this into your head until you get it. Figure out a way to make it resonate with you because when you become caught in the trap of thinking you can be all things to all people you will soon learn this is not sustainable. For example, I know you love your dog—I adore mine but if you can’t sleep or you keep waking up with a sore back because he is hogging the bed…get him out of the bed! Stop putting yourself last at home, last at work, and last in your life. It's never too late to stop doing things the way they've always been done. Cumbersome processes can be streamlined or eliminated, tasks can be delegated or outsourced. Start saying “no” for pete's sake! If you keep trying to be everything to everyone, you will eventually miss the mark and be left burnt out, resentful and of no help to anyone—yourself included. How does this benefit anybody in the long run? It doesn’t. So stop. Think of it this way…the more people ask of you, the more you need to ask of others because somethings got to give. Stop equating moving your needs higher up on your priority list with being selfish. It’s not. All days, it's smart--many days, it’s survival. So enough with the Mother Teresa act. It's not serving anyone. Your needs matter.

Stop fearing the word “no”.

Just as you need to get comfortable saying “no”, it’s equally important that you become more comfortable hearing it. Let's face it, just as you can’t fulfill everyone else’s requests, they can’t always fulfill yours. This isn’t personal. Other people need to demand their boundaries be respected the same way you do. So, when you get the courage to ask your boss for the promotion and they say “no”, don’t fall in a heap to the floor and spiral into a pit of self-loathing and dejection. Life will go on. Hasn't it always? Don’t assume this is a personal rejection – say thank you and move along. I'm not saying you have to be thrilled with their response but at least you know where you stand and now you can plan your next steps.

There is so much power in simply asking for exactly what you want!

Please don’t build your courage and then, at the last minute ask for less because you are afraid of being told “no”. Don’t play small to avoid making other people feel uncomfortable or in some weird attempt to make being told “no” less painful. Most times, you will get no more than what you have the courage to ask for! I’m not saying to stomp on other people, be rude, arrogant or otherwise disrespectful but demonstrate to others that you know your worth, so they’ll know it too. Being courageous (even for just a few minutes) almost always results in you getting more than you would have received otherwise.

I had a client (we will call her "Amy") who came to me to help her figure out what to do about her "miserable job". After some work together, Amy confirmed she actually had a great job she loved! What she hated was the distance to work from her home. Her commute was making her miserable. Amy had taken the train from Hamilton to Toronto and back every day for 8 years and hated every minute of it. I asked her what she had done to try to alleviate this problem. Amy noted her boss was aware of the fact she was unhappy with her commute but had never offered an alternative and hadn't reacted to Amy's suggestions of alternate arrangements. As it turned out, Amy felt very angry, resentful and even bitter that her boss seemed to ignore her unhappiness. Amy mentioned that her boss also lived outside of Toronto and often worked from home. Amy "supposed" she didn't "deserve" to work from home because she wasn't a manager. I asked her to recount the conversation that had taken place with her boss in this regard.

As it turned out, Amy had never had a formal, "sit-down" discussion about this issue. She had, in passing, rather passively alluded to her discontent, lamenting on how lucky her manager was to be able to work from home. That was it. This was her attempt to make things better.

So, it became clear that Amy had been anything but clear in her communication with her manager. She was expecting, among other things, for her manager to read her mind, respond positively to her passive-aggressive complaining and anticipate her needs and wants.

After spending some time working out what she wanted from her job, and what was important to her, Amy came up with a new approach. She decided to arrange a sit-down discussion with her boss and clearly communicate some changes to her role that she felt would be both a win for her and a win for her employer. In short, this is what she ended up gaining:

-a more senior-level title

-a pay increase

-additional administrative support

-1 extra week of holiday time

-the option to work from home one day per week

-a laptop computer and cell phone to make working from home possible

Pretty good gains, huh? I'd like to add a little something that happened just before Amy's meeting with her boss that made the pot less sweet for her. Without any input from me, Amy actually "down graded" her list of requests just before the meeting happened. She had originally planned to ask to work from home 4 days per week. At the last minute she "diluted" her ask feeling like she didn't "deserve" to work from home as much as her boss did. The result was Amy didn't ask for exactly what she wanted so she didn't get it. In the end, this soured all of the gains she had made because they were not what she wanted most of all.

Amy subsequently went back to her boss and requested to work from home 4 days per week which is what she really wanted most. It turned out, her request was rejected. She was told "no" and would only be allowed to work from home 1 day per week.

Amy decided she would begin to look for work closer to home as she continued to find the commute too grueling. She found another position rather quickly, applied and was presented with an offer.

After some coaching, rather than simply presenting her boss with her resignation, Amy set up a meeting with her boss to discuss the situation. She described her feelings and disclosed the new opportunity in front of her. Her boss was horrified. She clearly did not want to lose such a valued member of her team and offered to work with Amy to find a way to keep her at the company.

Amy went back to the drawing board and clearly outlined her job "non-negotiables"--the aspects of a position that were critical and that she wasn't willing to budge on, her "negotiables", aspects that were less important, and that she might consider giving up in lieu of a "non-negotiable" and then aspects that she would give up with little hesitation. She ended up negotiating something that made her very happy. She became a contract employee which allowed her the ability to work from September to June and enjoy summers off with her kids, she worked from home full-time and maintained the same hourly wage. She gave up a more prestigious title, some of her benefits, (she let go of some extended health coverage as she was covered by her spouse's plan anyhow), and her paid vacation in lieu of unpaid summers off. She was able to design a position that fit her life. She was thrilled. Amy also couldn't believe that all she had to do was ask (well, she did almost also quit but it's still a powerful example).

The important thing, I think, is almost never even whether or not you get what you want (although that can be spectacularly awesome). It's having the courage to ask and knowing where you stand so you can decide if and when it's time to move on.

Don’t expect people to read your mind.

Stop with the moaning, groaning, whining and complaining. It doesn’t help. Instead, practice clear, assertive, communication. Don’t assume other people (boss, colleagues, friends, spouse) can telepathically understand and anticipate your every want, need, and desire. It is up to us to say what we mean and mean what we say. Crying about our unfulfilled needs won’t make them met. Instead of feeling hurt or upset when your boss, spouse, co-workers or friends do not act the way you expect them to, first assume they have not understood or are not aware of your expectations. It’s up to you to make them clear. They are not mind readers. Make your needs clear and specific. Don’t ask for something to be done “soon” when you can ask for it to be done by noon. Don’t assume someone else will interpret something the way you will.

If you feel confident you clearly communicated your boundaries, a request, or a need and it is violated, ignored, or rejected, you now have valuable information to help you plot your next move.

A passive aggressive approach and dropping hints doesn’t work.

Don’t waste your time beating around the bush. Be direct in your requests. If you need someone to change their behaviour or there is something you need or expect, be explicit in telling them so. Remain passive and risk being ignored.

Be clear about what you will and will not put up with. Stop being complicit in allowing other people to treat you like a doormat. You show others how you expect to be treated by what you let them get away with. If you put up with being overlooked, pushed aside, ignored or disrespected, this will continue. As the saying goes: “what you tolerate, persists”. Tell your colleague you expect them to follow through with promises, tell your boss you would like to share your ideas, tell your neighbour to stop parking in your space. Setting and maintaining boundaries by expressing what you will not tolerate is not only important to your professional success, but also to your personal well-being. Take the time to carefully consider what you are no longer willing to tolerate and ask for what you need. Stop asking whether you are “deserving” of something or not and stop settling. If you ordered chocolate cake and were given vanilla instead (you hate vanilla), would you stop and wonder if you deserve the chocolate cake? Nope. You would politely send the vanilla cake back and enjoy the chocolate cake you had clearly asked for. Apply this scenario to other situations in life and see how it changes them. You do not have to "put up with" less than you ask for. It's not a matter of deserving or not deserving. Sometimes it is simply a matter of a choice you make.

Asking for and putting up with less than you really want - from yourself, from others and from life – isn’t doing anybody any favours. What are you putting up with? Consider this: Take action to figure out who you are, what you want, and to build the courage to ask for it. You just might get it!

Ready to make a move and want some support to make it easier and more successful? I can help!

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