Tory Johnson, CEO of Women for Hire and "Good Morning America's" workplace contributor, has written a new book that answers many of the questions we grapple with at work:
How do I ask my boss for a raise?
How do I ask my boss to evenly distribute the workload?
How would I talk to my boss about drama with a co-worker, without creating an unpleasant work environment?
Johnson's book, "Take This Book to Work: How to Ask for (and Get) Money, Fulfillment and Advancement," helps answer those questions and many more.
If I had only asked! Perhaps this phrase sounds familiar. You probably know firsthand how hard it is to ask for what you want at work. Ask and you shall receive? Surely we all know it's not that easy, especially in the cutthroat world of work.
For our new book, "Take This Book to Work: How to Ask For (and Get) Money, Fulfillment and Advancement" (St. Martin's Press; Sept 2006), my co-author Robyn Spizman and I polled more than five hundred professional women, some of them looking for a job and some happily employed on what they viewed as the biggest hot-button issues with which they routinely struggle. Three topics consistently emerged: money, personal fulfillment and professional advancement. Regardless of their industry, occupation or level of success, most working women throughout the country have these issues at the top of their minds. As we dug deeper, we discovered a specific thread at the core of each of these workplace challenges: it all came down to what an individual did to prepare and then was willing or able to ask for.
Whether they're seeking employment for the first time or simply trying to advance their careers after years on the job, many women routinely grapple with how to ask for what they want and feel they have earned through hard work and commitment. But often we don't ask questions because we're shy, intimidated, or simply uncomfortable. Other times, we just don't feel like we're entitled to ask, or we allow a fear of looking stupid--and/or a feeling of self-consciousness to hold us back. It often boils down to an uncertainty about timing, protocol and even specific language to use when asking specifically for what we want. In the end, many women wind up sitting on the situation, stalling and stewing instead of asking.
Fortunately, asking the essential questions is a learned skill, one that any woman can master quickly. In Take This Book to Work seventy-something scenarios are presented, from asking for an interview to negotiating the best severance package and a whole lot of everyday stuff in between. This excerpt offers a glimpse at why some of the most successful women today have recommended the book.
How to Ask for Time Off Before Accepting a Position: During the interview process, there may be important dates on your mind that will conflict with your new position if you wind up receiving an offer--a long-standing vacation, a wedding. This is one of those issues where timing is critical. Do not reveal this information before or during the interview process. Chances are it could knock you out of the running--"Oh she's already asking for time off and she hasn't even gotten the offer." Instead, wait until you've received an offer and then use it as part of the negotiation. "I'm thrilled by your offer. I already know of a conflict two months from now for a trip I committed to. I'd like to establish now how this time off will be handled so there are no surprises when the time comes."
How to Ask Your Boss to Share More Information: There are a few ways to go about this while showing your respect for the boss's authority and demonstrating a business need for more information. One is to ask by saying, "I find that my work is much stronger and more thorough when I have all of the relevant information, so would you be willing to share the notes with me from your weekly management meetings?"
Let's say the boss dumps a project on your lap without explaining who or what it's for--and simply expects you to figure it out. Say, "I've been brainstorming ways to tackle this assignment, and I'd like to know for whom this information is intended and how exactly it will be used so I can prepare it in the ideal format for its audience." You're basically saying, "When I'm kept in the loop, my work for you will be all the stronger because of it."
How to Ask the Boss to Help You find a New Job: As surprising as it may sound, your current boss may be a great resource in helping you look for a new position. Obviously you can't take this approach if you two are adversaries, but if there's mutual respect, give it a shot. The boss might have great connections within the company and within the industry. "I've learned so much working for and with you. At this stage, I feel I've contributed as much as I can to this department, and I think it's time for me to move into an area where I can continue to develop new skills. Might you be agreeable to helping me make such a transition?"
How to Ask for a Second Chance to Make a First Impression: We have a finite time to make a lasting impression with decision makers in business. Despite the best of intentions, we sometimes fail to make a positive one. You didn't put your best foot forward, now what? Acknowledge it, briefly apologize and move on. Don't over-apologize and don't belittle yourself, which is a big mistake many women make. Never say, "Oh, I'm such an idiot--I can't believe how badly I messed up." Instead try, "I'm sorry I didn't have the proper materials prepared for our meeting. This project is very important to me, and I'd love the chance to speak again. Do you have 15 minutes next week?"
How to Ask for Less Responsibility: You like your job, but lately it seems that either you've bitten off more than you can chew, or you're handed more than you can handle. First, stop accepting more work right now. Don't be a dumping ground for everyone else's work. "Although it would be my pleasure to help you if I could, I'm already at full capacity in terms of how much I can accomplish at this time." You can also try a candid conversation with your boss. "I know I make things look easy, but I have to overcome my willingness to take on more work than I should. Would you please help me to prioritize and delegate effectively so everything gets the attention it deserves?"
How to Ask a Colleague to Quit Complaining: Sometimes complaining is inevitable--everyone has to vent here and there. But when it's constant and unrelenting, it can bring everyone down. Approach your colleague by saying, "I know the other department can bother you sometimes, but lately your complaining has reached new heights and it's starting to worry me. I'd like to discuss this so I can help you figure out some kind of resolution." If it's affecting everyone else, you can say, "I am concerned that your negativity is bringing down our whole group. Your success is important to all of us, so let's work together to come up with a solution to nip the frustrations you're clearly experiencing."
How to Ask for Time Off to Attend to a Child's Needs: Since work typically takes place during the school day, working moms must prepare themselves for many conflicts over time. You want to be true to your job and your family--even when they overlap. First, if you know there's a field trip or performance or doctor's visit coming up, give your boss some notice and start by asking for several hours off, not a full day. Be clear that this means the company doesn't lose a full day of productivity and you don't use a vacation day or unpaid time off. Other times, make your needs known without asking for permission. For example, instead of saying, "Gee, my son is graduating from high school next month, and I'm hoping to take off a few hours that day to attend his ceremony." You can say, "My son is graduating from high school next month, so I'll need to take off a few hours that morning, which I'd like you to note on your calendar."
How to Ask if Someone Is Unhappy with You: Women usually have great intuition--we may have a hunch that something isn't right. Don't over think it or assume the worst before you've gotten the facts. You might say, "Your opinion matters a great deal to me, and I've noticed that you've been very quiet lately. We haven't spoken like we normally do. Would you tell me what's going on?" You can also try, "Our professional relationship is very important to me, and I'd appreciate it if you'd be candid in telling me if there's anything that I can improve on." Avoid asking, "Did I do something wrong?" or "Do you have a problem with me?" since it's usually easier for the person to just say no to avoid a confrontation than to give you an honest response.
Johnson is the Workplace Contributor for "Good Morning America" and the CEO of Women For Hire. Connect with her at www.womenforhire.com. From September through November, visit Johnson in person at the free Women For Hire Career Expos throughout the country where you can ask her directly about your most challenging career concerns.