HR Matters: 12 tips for making that difficult request at work

At work there are often times that we feel the need for a significant ‘ask’.
At work there are often times that we feel the need for a significant ‘ask’.

WHEN we were young, we knew how to ask for things. We had several tactics, most not so subtle.

The huff, the cry, the nag was typically rolled out as appropriate (maybe even all three), until we either wore our parents down or got sent to our room, disappointed.

Savvier kids however were able to employ a little craftier psychology. At Christmas time, or for birthdays, when they realised that last minute additional requests, the more expensive or hard to get items, required a little extra leverage.

At this point they employed tactics like pointing out how their best friend was getting (or already had) the same item, or maybe that every kid at school had one.

It’s a simple trick. They played people off against others. No parent wants their child to be the one that looks like a poor relation, so they cave in and buy.

At work there are often times that we feel the need for a significant ‘ask’.

How we approach it and how we feel about it are determined by a variety of factors: familiarly with the person we are asking, how long we have been at the company, what the outcomes of not getting a positive result are, level of authority (or perceived authority) of the person who we are asking, past experience in making this type of ask or outcomes of previous asks of this person in particular.

All considerations that may have us thinking twice before we start.

Now sometimes there are still a few people who will employ the huff/cry/nag options (usually with very negative results) and many others will have developed an inbuilt aversion to asking for anything from their manager or colleagues, so here are a few tips for making that difficult request:

• First up, please don’t agonise over things. If it’s important, accept you need to raise the issue and ask the question. Focus on the optimum result and consider how best to achieve that. Over thinking, catastrophising and so on will be of no use and more than likely prove detrimental to proceedings as you will invariably wind yourself up into a state where you either fluff your lines, become overly confrontational or talk yourself out of making the ask in the first place.

• Be clear on where your red lines are, what you will and won’t compromise on. And if you are prepared at the outset to accept a compromise position; don’t moan about if afterwards!

• Serious asks require a serious ask. If it’s a pay increase, a promotion or something significant, don’t treat it as a joke. You can be polite, there can be humour, but at the nub of it all, the person you are making the request of needs to know you are serious. If you don’t treat the ask as important, there is no reason for anyone else to.

• Manage your emotions. If you don’t get what you want there is no need to burn your bridges with a tantrum. Process your emotions away from the meeting and consider next steps in the cold light of day. Often a little solo thinking time can bring the other person round, once they have had time to process the information.

• Leave them thinking about your argument, not about how you behaved. Being polite is rarely a weakness.

• Similarly, don’t make ultimatums unless you are prepared to see them through.

• Be strategic. Consider the potential outcomes from your request. If it’s increase in pay or more staff; how does that affect the bottom line. How does it impact others in your team, department or the business as a whole. Once you have extrapolated these, consider how you would respond if these are brought up as blockers.

• Place yourself in the shoes of the person you are making the ask of. What are their priorities and concerns? How do they approach negotiations. What have previous encounters with them been like? What do they tend to value and what do they easily discount? Do they place a premium on loyalty and tenure or are they a ‘what have you done for me lately’ type person? Consider all these and factor them into your approach. Make it a win-win situation where possible. Zero sum games are rarely good business.

• Be able to justify the ask. If it’s a promotion; show how you have been able to take on the increased responsibility. Provide evidence of having successfully governed complex projects or managed difficult teams. Arm yourself with your results, stats and successes. Be evidence based.

• Have your facts and figures ready at hand. Don’t be caught saying that you need to go away and work something out that should have been at your fingertips. It makes your ask look ill thought out.

• Equally: don’t lie. Don’t base your argument on sand or try to sell unicorns. You will invariably be found out.

Finally, and most importantly: think about what you are actually asking for, what is the deep down, honest to goodness, real requirement?

Theodore Levitt was once quoted as saying: “People don't want to buy a quarter-inch drill, they want a quarter-inch hole”.

There may be many ways to get what you want, so if that’s the case, be open minded about the ask and don’t limit your options. Focus on the end result and work back from there.

Barry Shannon is head of HR at STATSports