Want Something? Just Ask

04/22/2015 03:56 pm ET | Updated Jun 22, 2015

In honor of Equal Pay Day this month, I had the opportunity to facilitate a Lean In Facebook Q&A that reached 139,900 people on one of the more challenging sticky floors for women (and men in some cases). That sticky floor is called Asking For What You Want.

While "making the ask" may seem simple on the surface, I was amazed at the number of questions that arose on this issue. Concerns ranged from figuring out the key steps you need to know about asking in relation to your career, strategy for effective negotiations, and how to address the internal voice in your head that may tell you to retreat from asking. Yet despite the reservations that some may feel toward asking, we are routinely faced with the need to ask for what we want in job interviews or when seeking a raise, promotion, bonus, vacation, flextime, and other benefits or opportunities.

While the act of asking may make you feel vulnerable, having the courage to ask actually demonstrates strength. In most cases, having the confidence to ask for something you deserve helps you gain respect from others. However, it's important to be mindful about what you ask for and how you ask. So how exactly should you approach asking for what you want, in order to increase your chances of getting it? Whatever you want--whether more status, more money, or more time off--here are five proven strategies to try:

  • Ditch the entitlement. Don't assume that because you believe you should receive something, it should therefore come to you without question. In most cases involving the next step up in pay, position, or preferences, people expect you to ask for what you want. Not only does asking show self-confidence, but it also shows respect for the person you're asking by acknowledging that his or her help is requested, not just expected.
  • Do your homework. More than 60 percent of a successful negotiation gets determined by what you do before you actually engage in that conversation. So when it comes to getting a raise, know your worth--and document it. Use websites and resources like,,, and Glassdoor to research industry standards and trends, compare internal and external salaries, and identify other best practices. Having these numbers at your fingertips will allow you to present your case more credibly, based on data that helps prove your case.
  • Be collaborative. When formulating your request, it's important to understand your boss's needs and the needs of the organization--not just your own. Build a bridge between your request and your company's concerns and interests by asking questions like: "How do we both do well?" and "How would you define success?" Make it a win-win.
  • Have a backup plan. If you're asking for something that may not be granted right away, be ready with a Plan B. For example, if your goal is to be promoted but there is currently a hiring freeze, ask for another type of bump up in responsibility, or ask what you can do to further your goal of being promoted until the hiring freeze is lifted. Or if you've been told by your supervisor that there is no money budgeted for raises this year, ask for another type of benefit that might help compensate for this reality, such as additional vacation time, continuing education opportunities, or more flexibility in your job.
  • Be patient. When it comes to asking, remember that no doesn't always mean no. If your proposal is initially rejected, give people time to think about your request. Ask yourself how you might have presented your case better and adjust your tactics as needed. On the other hand, it's important to remember that the reason for a denial may have nothing to do with you or the way you positioned your request, and may be related to the current economy or other issues within the company. Return to your backup plan, and be prepared to act when the timing seems right to approach your boss again.

If you'd like a more customized approach to improving your asking ability and negotiating skills, another strategy to consider is working with a SHAMBAUGH executive coach. Developing a coaching relationship allows us to take your unique needs into account and design a tailored program for you to maximize your professional and personal impact. Whatever approach you take, my ultimate advice is, Just Do It! One thing is for certain: you may not get what you want all the time or even most of the time--but if you don't ask, you may never get what you want.

Learn more about my 2015 speaking initiative that calls out the importance of having all voices on deck, allowing leadership to harness the broader spectrum of human talent and intelligence while combining the strength of both genders.

To learn more about how SHAMBAUGH can help you build inclusive/integrated leadership within your organization, or about SHAMBAUGH's targeted women's leadership development programs, executive coaching, and other core services, visit

Don't miss a limited promotional offer of Rebecca's timely book, "Leadership Secrets of Hillary Clinton," available for $1.99 at selected retailers.