Get what you want at work – by asking for it

A tough ask: don’t start off thinking your demands are unreasonable
Communicate your worth and don’t apologise for it
A management position opens up, and Plato and Aristotle both ask to be considered. Plato, placing a supreme value on truth, relies on his track record to do the talking. But Aristotle knows better. He emphasises his own credibility (ethos), puts forward a consistent, well-evidenced plan for increasing the team’s productivity (logos) and tries to evoke a reaction in his interviewer (pathos). Who gets the promotion?
Asking for what we want can be just as tricky today. Whether it’s requesting a pay rise, a favour or just some advice, here are some tips for bending your boss’s ear.


“Think about what your ideal outcome would be and then confidently, courageously, ask for it”, writes Margie Warrell in Stop Playing Around. “Not in an entitled way. Not in an aggressive way. But in a way that conveys that you know your worth.” This is particularly important if you are requesting more responsibility. Your boss will only allocate the necessary resources to your project if you are confident in your ability to execute it.
When you speak, pay attention to subject pronouns. By using “we” and not “I”, you’ll emphasise how your suggestion will benefit the team as a whole. But don’t try to conceal your own personal interest too much. Excessive altruism may seem sycophantic.


Snap apologies are an irritating habit for many, but if you preface a request with “sorry, but”, you’re setting yourself up for failure. Contrition suggests that you believe your demands are unreasonable, prompting your colleague to reject them.
Reflecting on her experience working at a high-tech company, executive coach Audrey Lee told the New York Times how her tendency to apologise irritated her colleagues. In the workplace, accept that questions need to be asked and requests made. Don’t feel guilty for asking. “Much of one’s worth is equated to compensation and promotions in the workplace,” says Lee. “And for years, bringing up these topics and taking credit for my own work were still uncomfortable and even embarrassing.”


“You can’t force people to be persuaded – you can only activate their desire and show them the logic behind your ideas,” writes Dr Joel Whalen in I See What You Mean: Persuasive Business Communication. However, you can increase your chances of success by stating your demands clearly.
Be selective about your language and emphasise causality to convince your listener that your request is rational and logical. An experiment by behavioural scientist Ellen Langer showed that 94 per cent of people were willing to let a stranger cut the queue to use a photocopier when they gave the justification “because I’m in a rush”.
Executive coach Brenda Corbett recommends the Three Sentence Rule to encourage you to think about what you said. The first sentence should introduce the idea, and place it in context. “I’d like your opinion on something”, for example. The second should communicate the specific details of the idea. The third sentence is a question, like “How do you see us proceeding?”. Stay there and wait for a response, says Corbett. “Now, you have people engaged in a dialogue.”

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