the workplace

Here Are 5 Very Spelled-Out Ways to Ask for What You Want at Work

Cat sitting on chair, looking at laptop
Photo: Sung-Il Kim/Corbis

The negotiations don’t end once you’ve accepted a job — unless, of course, you yourself end them because you’re too awkward to ask the powers-that-be directly for what you want at work. In the latest issue of Harvard Business Review, Deborah M. Kolb — who leads a program on negotiations at Harvard Law School — writes about how to navigate informal negotiations, which can be just as important for an employee’s happiness, efficiency, and productivity as the formal ones. 

Kolb’s piece includes some great advice, but the most useful may be where she pretty much spells it all out for you, providing a kind of script:

When he challenges your ability—“I don’t think you’re ready”—correct his impression: “I understand why it might appear that way. But here’s the experience I have that shows why I’m capable of managing it…”

When she demeans your ideas as unreasonable—“That will never work”—divert her focus to the solution: “What would be a reasonable arrangement?”

When he appeals for sympathy—“It’s such a tough time for this group right now”—dig deeper: “What really concerns you? What can I do to ease those concerns?”

When she criticizes your approach—“This is a really inappropriate request”—ask for elaboration: “Can you help me understand why?”

When he flatters you—“You’re so good in the position you have”—use a role reversal: “If you were in my shoes, what would you do?”

If these fail, Kolb has one more piece of advice: Disrupt the conversation somehow — but in the literal sense, not in the start-up sense. Pause for a moment or get up to grab more coffee or water, because “when you break the action, people rarely revert to the same negotiating stance, and the pause can lead to breakthroughs.” Now stop wasting time on the internet and go have yourself an important awkward conversation. 

5 Ways to Ask for What You Want at Work