CV prep

The power of asking

Table of Contents

Light bulb with question mark

If you made a list of things you were given just because you asked for them, how long would your list be? First class upgrades? Airport meal tickets? Rental car upgrades? Full college and medical school scholarships? Paid trips to professional meetings? Increased responsibilities at work?

The power of the ask

These items are just a few of the perks that I have received simply because I asked. None of them would have been offered had I waited for someone to notice that I “deserved” it. Recently I asked for a free rental car upgrade. The clerk told me that everyone was asking for free upgrades and I told her, “Of course they are. If you don’t ask, you don’t get.” Asking is a basic part of negotiating, which most women hate and many men love. I used to hate asking for anything. I hated calling a store to ask a question. I hated asking for special treatment. I couldn’t stand the thought of trying to get something for free or asking for a discount. Negotiate the purchase of a car? The thought of it practically gave me hives. Haggling in a market even where it was expected—no way. I didn’t like the fear I felt about asking for something I wanted. I began reading about negotiation, practiced asking and negotiating with small things and built up my confidence. I am constantly amazed at what I can get. It doesn’t always work (I didn’t get that car upgrade.), but when it does, I feel great.

In life, there are people who negotiate everything and there are people who don’t negotiate for anything. Typically, those who do are men and those who don’t are women. Some men look at it as a game. Many women just dread it. Have you ever noticed that children are constantly asking for something, and they often get exactly what they want? I recently asked my teenage daughter why she always argued when I said no, and she replied to me, it’s because most of the time, I’ll change my mind. She has pretty shrewd negotiating tactics because she’s figured out that if she gives a reasonable explanation and the only reason I can give to disagree with her is “because I said so,” I usually will end up seeing it her way.

What can you ask for?

So, what do people ask for? Linda Babcock, Ph.D. and Sara Laschever, coauthor, in their book, Women Don’t Ask (Published by Princeton University Press, 2003), say that the wage gap between men and women’s earnings can be explained by the fact that women tend not to negotiate their salaries and when they do, they undervalue their work. They ask for smaller raises and bonuses (if any) and the wage gap widens over the course of their careers. Babcock and Laschever also found that women are great at negotiating for others, their children, their departments at work, and their coworkers, but not for themselves. Interestingly, they found that when women are taught now to negotiate, they tend to be successful.

Why don’t people negotiate?

There are many reasons why people don’t ask or negotiate for things they want. I have experienced most of them myself. I was outright afraid of rejection more than anything. What if the other person said no? I’d look like a fool. They might think I was presumptuous. I wanted to be liked, even if I knew I would never see the person again. Sometimes people don’t ask out of fear of hurting the relationship. If you ask for something substantial from the boss and don’t get it, would you worry about how she perceived you after that? The desire to avoid being seen negatively can be a powerful inhibitor.

If the perceived risks are so high, why does anyone go to the trouble of asking for better things? Because if you don’t ask, you don’t get. We all go through life with wants and desires, some large and some small. If you don’t ask for what you want, others may never realize you want something. If they don’t know, how can they give it to you? According to Babcock and Laschever, women hang back because they think that someone will see how good they are or see what they need and give it to them. Not so. The boss is likely waiting for the employee to ask for the raise or the opportunity. If the employee doesn’t ask for it, it’s unlikely she will get it.

When to ask

When I ask for something, I have found that it’s best to ask people who appear to be in a good mood. I am much more successful if the person is pleasant rather than sour.

In situations where someone else is competing for the same thing, ask early. Say there’s a conference coming up and only one or two physicians can be out of the office. Get your request in early. Once a decision is made, it’s difficult for the person in charge to go back and change it to accommodate you. Another great time to ask for something is when you have just made a concession. Say you have just taken call for a colleague and you realize the next week that you’d like to take some time for a family function. Don’t be shy about asking that colleague to take a night for you. Likewise, if someone asks you if they can help—let them. Most people are good-hearted and want to be seen as helpful. Let them.

How to ask

Now that you see that there are many opportunities and have decided that you will ask, what are the next steps? First, ask nicely. Be specific about what you want. You don’t necessarily have to volunteer up front why you want it. Be prepared to substantiate why you deserve what you are asking for, especially when it comes to pay raises, bonuses, opportunities, and taking on more responsibility. If someone else’s reputation is on the line, you need to do the homework to convince them to take the risk. Be sure to tout your talents and qualifications without sounding like a braggart, and don’t become emotional. Stress can manifest itself in unproductive ways during a negotiation. Go for a run, practice the negotiation ahead of time, or psych yourself up with music—but don’t lose your cool. For example, when you’re dealing with a hotel clerk asking for free Internet access, maintain a professional demeanor and be polite. Clerks hardly ever help people who yell. It’s also important to make sure you are talking to the right person. If the hotel clerk does not have the authority to remove the charge from your room, politely ask to see the manager or someone who does.

So where do you want to go from here? Go ask for something. Start small. I started with little things—like an extra slice of avocado on my sandwich. After few successes, move to larger things, like a better seat on the plane or that free car upgrade. Remember, occasionally you will be told, no, but that just means that you’re asking.

The benefits of asking for what you want

Negotiating may not come naturally to you, but the rewards in self-esteem, comfort, material items, and money are just too good to pass up. If you are not an asker, maybe you should consider becoming one. Once you start experiencing success, you’ll feel great. There are two excellent books that can help get you started. The first is a classic on negotiating- Getting to Yes (Published in Penguin Books, 1981) by Roger Fisher, Samuel Williston Professor of Law, Emeritus, at Harvard Law School and William Ury, co-founder of Harvard’s Program on Negotiation and currently a Senior Fellow of the Harvard Negotiation Project. The other, mentioned earlier, is Babcock and Leschever’s, Women Don’t Ask. My opinions are drawn heavily from concepts explained in much more detail in these two books as well as years of practicing what they teach. Happy Asking!

Lt Col Leslie Knight is a family physician in the United States Air Force and is the president-elect of the Uniformed Services Academy of Family Physicians. She is currently assigned to Shaw Air Force Base in South Carolina as the chief of the medical staff.

The comments in Remarks are solely those of the author and may or may not be shared by Unique Opportunities, a publication of PracticeLink, or its advertisers.

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Leslie A. Knight

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