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How to Ask for What You Want—and Get It


Unhappy about something at work? Stop grumbling about it and speak up! Here’s the right way to do it, from Jane Hyun, a global leadership strategist and the co-author of Flex: The New Playbook for Managing Across Differences.

Five Steps to Speaking Up

“It takes courage and personal conviction to state your mind,” Hyun says. Find both by following this simple action plan:

#1 Prioritize. “Not everything we want to change is of equal importance, so before you initiate a conversation, you need to make sure it’s worth going to bat for,” Hyun explains. So if you want to ask for a more meaty assignment or inquire about a promotion, ask yourself: How will this change impact your team? Can you wait for it? For how much longer? Six months? Two years? Knowing what is and is not negotiable for you personally will also prepare you for any back-and-forth with your boss.

#2 Do your homework. If you are interested in an alternative telecommuting arrangement, or perhaps want to work from home one day a week, look up the company policy and identify who, if anyone, is already working flexibly. If you want to be on a higher-profile project, figure out how your individual contribution will benefit the business in the long run—and your boss. If your proposal seems pretty far-fetched even to you, run it by other people. Ultimately, you want to be able to respond to the concerns your boss raises.

#3 Rehearse. Write down your key points and practice how you will make the request—aloud. “It’s not going to come out the same every time, but the more you play out the tape, the more you’ll internalize your case and the more comfortable you’ll be during the actual conversation,” Hyun says.

#4 Do it in person. Schedule a meeting if you see your boss less than once a week. Otherwise plan to integrate the discussion into your weekly talk. “I would do any important meeting face to face,” Hyun says. “You can do it on the phone if he or she is traveling or inaccessible, but never do it by email or text.” The reason: You can’t manage the tone or convey the importance of what you’re saying.

#5 Go in with a positive attitude. It’ll show if you’re unsure or worried that you’re going to be slammed down. “You also want to make it clear that this isn’t a whim—you’ve thought about it carefully,” Hyun adds. If you’ve done all the above, your manager will probably not say no, but she may say maybe to an alternative work arrangement. In that case, suggest a trial period. After she agrees, your strong performance will have to take it from there.

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