Avoid Creating Your Own Disappointment

There’s an art to asking for what you want. It certainly works to your advantage if you’ve racked-up bonus points over time by being a “go-to” person that supports others in times of need. 

If you don’t ask, you don’t get

- Mahatma Gandhi

Most of us are familiar with the aforementioned quote, but I’d venture to say that Mr. Gandhi got it only partly right.

There’s an art to asking for what you want. It certainly works to your advantage if you’ve racked-up bonus points over time by being a “go-to” person that supports others in times of need. 

“Tit for tat”, “I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine”, and “One good turn deserves another” are all versions of the message: Give, and you are more likely to get when you need something.

Unfortunately, in today’s workplace we often face extremely tight timelines and shrinking budgets. Our default can set itself to - ask now, give later - later being some time in the future, when things calm down and I have time to reciprocate. For some, that time never comes.


Make it your philosophy (and practice) to give more than you ask for.

At one point in time I had almost 40 professionals reporting to me directly. Given that number, it was not unusual to receive a few “asks” every month. Most requests were related to a need for clarification on a procedure or new protocol. Since the team worked remotely, tech issues regularly popped-up and help was needed to expedite IT fixes. On occasion, requests of a more personal or individual nature were directed my way. These usually revolved around advancement (not enough), wages (too little), workload (too much), or time off (right now). 

Here’s where “If you don’t ask, you don’t get” makes partial sense. In my experience, the squeaky wheel is more likely to get a bit of oil. If you’re a consistently diligent and productive worker that never self-advocates for a slightly bigger piece of the pie, you may get overlooked or passed-over, because some of your colleagues did a better job of promoting their contributions resulting in some form of compensation.

The caveat to making this a successful strategy is to underscore how your performance has supported the team’s success, correlating your efforts and contributions to greater growth and/or earnings for the organization. Unfortunately, working hard - in and of itself - is usually not sufficient to warrant additional recognition or compensation.


Always roll in details of your contributions and successes when asking for a personal accommodation or supplemental compensation.

Examples of working well with others are personified by those who work as diplomats, liaisons or arbitrators. Observing these professionals closely, you’d see that how they say something and when they say something, are in big part keys to their success. My personal belief is that you can say almost anything to anyone, if you choose your words very carefully and select an appropriate time to deliver your message. 

Ideally, look for opportunities when you have a person’s undivided attention and a clear idea of how much time you have to talk. Booking regular one-to-one meetings opens the door to the future, allowing you ongoing opportunities to choose when it would be most appropriate to discuss the details of your request.


Choose your words and the timing of your request carefully and strategically.

One of the biggest challenges to answering a person’s request for “more”, is not being absolutely clear on what “more” means. Perhaps people are worried that they might over-ask, choosing to deliberately remain vague on the details of what they need. You would not believe how often I’ve heard staff and clients express that they would like: …to earn more, …to get greater recognition, …try something different, …to reduce their workload or responsibilities.

By not clearly defining what your needs and expectations are, you leave the listener the task of guessing at what you want. 

Depending on your situation, providing some context to why you are asking, can also win you some favour. For example, if you are asking for a raise because your spouse/partner has had to quit their job in order to take care of an aging parent with dementia - such details paint the picture of a very clear need. Similarly, if you are the parent of twins who are both enrolling at university and you now have substantial tuition costs to cover - providing context may tip the balance in your favour when merit increases are being considered.


Be clear on what you are asking for and why you are presenting the need at this time.

Being responsible for, and responding to the needs of many, constrains most leaders to be able to do either a little for all, more for some than for others, or a lot for a few - assuming that circumstances allow doing anything for anyone.

When considering requests, it is only human to evaluate how previous efforts to support a request were received. A person who has a history of being disappointed with the end result will, over time, be seen as impossible to please and not worth the effort trying. Whereas the person who gratefully and gracefully appreciates any and all efforts to be supported will over time win favour and be better placed for future “asks”.


Be grateful for any and all considerations that are made to support your requests/needs.

Let’s revisit that Gandhi quote for a moment: "If you don’t ask, you don’t get”. Well, the truth is that even if you do ask, there is no guarantee that you will get it. 

Although the rules for asking that I’ve brought to your attention can lead you to better results, they won’t assure you of getting what you want. In some instances, “circumstances” will trump “need”. It may feel like a defeat at the moment, but if you make it a practice to follow these rules, you will be better positioned to make a new request at some point in the future. 

Keep trying!


Accept that the answer may be “no”.

In the end, the reality might simply be that delivering on your request is not possible due to considerations that cannot be shared with you. If addressing your need is critical to your performance or wellbeing, be sure to re-engage the conversation at some point in the near future.

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