By Renee Weisman
Recently, several acquaintances came to me with similar problems: A young engineer complained that she was not invited to join a task force in which she very much wanted to participate. A manager attended a senior management meeting at which her employees were speaking and was surprised to see another teammate introduce their work. A graduate researcher complained that another student had just been given a plum assignment. When I probed further to understand why they were overlooked, they all had a similar lament: “No one asked me to join,” or “No one asked me to speak,” or “No one asked me if I’d be interested.”
Do you miss out on opportunities because you wait to be asked? Perhaps you are afraid you will be turned down. Perhaps you don’t want to “overstep” your bounds. Perhaps someone drummed the old adage, “Good things come to those who wait” into your head. But your professors, coworkers, and bosses are not mind readers. You have to let them know of your interest. Stay on the sidelines, and others will step in and take charge.
Even if they want to ask, many are so hesitant that instead of asking directly, they drop hints, hoping some astute person will pick up the ball. My favorite example of this is a husband and wife driving on a long trip. She asks him, “Would you like to stop for a cup of coffee at the next rest stop”? Since he has no need for coffee or a driving break, he answers, “No.” The wife, who did want to stop, is now disappointed or has to rephrase her request. If a husband can’t recognize his wife’s hints, it is unlikely that your coworkers, boss or professors will know what you were hinting at.
Now that we have agreed that you need to ask, how should you do it? Let’s take a look at the three women I mentioned earlier. Our young engineer should have gone to the task force leader and asked to join the team with some specifics on why it would be good for both her and the task force. Our manager should have met with the staff arranging the meeting and offered to say a few words of welcome and introduction. Our grad student should have made her interest in the assignment known to the professor.
The approach can be broken down into four simple steps:
1. Define what you want. Be as specific as you can be when asking.
2. Describe why is the advancement is a good path for you and for the person (lab, organization, business, etc.) you are asking.
3. Put a time into your request, if possible. Make it a reasonable period and explain why you need to know by that date. For example, you might say, “Could you let me know by Friday so I have sufficient time to make arrangements?”
4. Be prepared for your response if the answer is no. If you have a good reason to counter the negative response, do so. If not, accept the answer and ask that if a similar situation arises in the future, you could be considered.
Asking for something specific, accompanied by a logical reason that your request is beneficial to both parties, is absolutely critical in enabling you to get what you want. Don’t wait to be asked because no one will.
About the Blogger
Renee Weisman, owner of Winning at Work Consulting, was a distinguished engineer and executive in the male dominated semiconductor industry for over 40 years. Author of Winning in a Man's World, 5 Ways to Get a Man to Listen and her newest book, 7 Steps to Bragging the Right Way, Renee teaches men and women how to work together more effectively.