Friday, April 11, 2008

Wise: Grace Judson

I'm So Glad you Asked
By Grace Judson

What do you want?

Did you ask for it?

Chances are that if you're a man, you did, and if you're a woman, you didn't. This is one of those confusing gender differences that often creates frustration - and can cause you to feel as if people are playing negative politics when they're not.

It seems self-evident that if you want something, you ask for it. Kids are darned good at it: just walk through any toy store, and you'll hear the chorus from all around you. I don't have kids, but I can tell you that my cats are good at asking too, right down to waking me up if I have the audacity to sleep past their normal breakfast time.

So what stops people from asking, and what can you do about it - both as someone who has things to ask for, and as someone who manages or works with people who may or may not be asking? Here are a few things to think about. If they don't ring true for you, don't dismiss them out of hand. Chances are they do ring true for people you work with. Your ability to understand and respond to those people will benefit them and you.

Noticing hard work
You may believe that hard work stands on its own, and that you deserve your hard work to be recognized and rewarded without having to draw attention to it. When someone else's work is rewarded with a promotion or a "good job, way to go" while yours is apparently overlooked, you feel cheated and demoralized.

In today's frantically busy world, people barely have time to do their own work, much less see what's going on around them. With the best of intentions, it's hard to notice what other people are up to.

So the person who got the promotion or other recognition probably asked for it. Perhaps he said, "Let's talk about what I need to do to be promoted!" and followed up with, "Okay, I did all that, what's the next step?" Or perhaps she asked her manager, "Did you notice the graphics I added to that report? Bob over in Sales said they were helpful."

If you wait for someone to notice your work without drawing attention to it, you're likely to be waiting for a very long time. Don't wait. Ask!

Playing by the rules
Perhaps you haven't even considered asking for something that goes against your understanding of company policy, your manager's preferences and opinions, or HR's rules. Then when, for instance, someone else goes to a conference that wasn't in the budget, or when an exception is made in the work-from-home policy, you're understandably offended and annoyed.

As you've guessed by now - they probably asked. He might have said, "I think this conference would be valuable to me and to the department. These are the programs I'll attend that are directly relevant. Here are the costs - air fare was less than I expected - and here's what I think the return-on-investment will be."

Or she might have pointed out, "You know, I spend almost three hours in traffic every day getting to and from the office. Fridays are especially bad, and those are the days I'm on the phone all day anyway, making initial sales calls. I think I'd be a lot more productive if I could work from home on Fridays. Would you be willing to consider a month's trial period, and we could assess my productivity at the end of that time?"

What you think are rules are often just guidelines. Ask!

Accepting what's offered
It's important to remember that what's initially offered isn't necessarily the final word. Once again, it's a question of asking.

The person who got additional help on his project might have taken the facts and figures to his manager. "Given the deadline, and given the size of the project, we can significantly reduce risk if I have two more people working with me."

Your fellow department manager who got extra funding for her IT budget might have said, "My group's been working with sub-standard equipment for a long time now - we seem to be the last department to be upgraded. I've gone over the figures with the IT director, and he says we need new PCs for at least half my staff just to be up to minimum standard. I'd like to increase my technology budget to cover that - what do you think?"

Don't just take what you've been handed if you need or want more. Ask!

About those gender differences
You probably noticed my choices for "he said - she said" ways of asking in this article. Yes, they were deliberate, and yes, I exaggerated the differences for effect.

Let me be very clear: I exaggerated for effect! While the words and approaches I used are all acceptable, clearly some are more direct and potentially more powerful than others. Neither is more appropriate for men or for women; either may or may not be the right way to ask in any given situation. Nonetheless, the reality is that women and men ask for things in very different ways, which is what my exaggeration is intended to point out.

Those differences between how women and men ask for things and negotiate is the subject of Women Don't Ask, a thoroughly-researched and very readable book by Linda Babcock and Sara Laschever, paperback edition published in February 2007. I highly recommend the book to anyone who is a woman or who works or lives with women. If you're a woman, it will help you become more fluent in asking for what you want. If you're a man, you'll understand why women sometimes appear maddeningly vague or tentative about asking.

"You create your opportunities by asking for them." - Patti Hansen, 1956- , successful fashion model and wife of Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards.

© Grace L. Judson. All Rights Reserved.
It's not magic. It's just positive workplace politics.

About the Author
I'm Grace Judson, the founder of and driving force behind
Svaha Concepts.

Feeling trapped between your career goals and your loathing for "playing politics"? You can remain true to your values and integrity and still be politically savvy. For more information or to access my free resources (including my free workbook "The Five Deadly Shoulds of Office Politics that Maul, Mangle, and Murder Careers (and what to do about them)," please visit Svaha Concepts' website.

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