"Ask for what you really want." That's the advice. I've heard it before. But it's harder to follow in practice than it sounds.
I'm a big advocate of teaching young women to negotiate, for example. One of the theories as to why women are paid less than men on average is that women don't ask for the higher salary at the time of hire. Then, no matter what kind of raises they get in the future, they're never able to fully catch up (because raises are usually percent-based).
The last time I took a new job, I did negotiate. It was the first time I actually pushed for what I believe I deserved to earn. I didn't get quite the figure I hoped, but I did overshoot intentionally, knowing that the final offer would be lower than whatever number I cited.
One thing I did do during the negotiation process was make clear that I valued time off and title. The company was firm on the title, but I ended up with a contract under which I earn more vacation days faster than most other employees. That's a win, in my book.
Lately I've been circling back to this idea of asking for what I really want, not what I think I can get in other areas. I've been reading and listening to a lot of motivation speaker stuff — let me admit upfront that a lot of self-help motivational stuff is hogwash. Nevertheless, there's often a kernel of truth to it. One article I came across from Inc. Magazine, an interview with Mike Williams, president and CEO of the David Allen Company, i.e., the Getting Things Done brand, resurfaced the concept afresh. Before the interview, Williams asks the writer, Jeff Haden, "What would make this call wildly successful for you?" And in fact, that's where Haden starts his article: with that very interaction.
How often do we forget to ask or answer that question? "What do I want to happen?" Or "What needs to happen in order for this thing to be successful?" Or "What do I hope to get out of this?"
The point is Williams' question is an extension of asking for what you want. He's asking the reporter: "What do you really want? Why are we doing this interview? If you tell me, I'm better equipped to make it happen."
The advice proliferates everywhere. I've heard it before, often directed at women, for everything down to asking forgiveness in bank charges. That exact scenario came up for me the other day. It's a long story, but in a nutshell, I messed up and set up two very large transfers of money simultaneously when there only should have been one. At 12:01 A.M., I got an email from my bank saying my account was overdrawn. Then I had two overdraft fees of $34 each show up on my ledger. Within 24 hours, I had the fees reversed. How? I called the bank and very plainly stated, "You can see I'm a good customer. I messed up. You can see I messed up. But you can also see how quickly I corrected the problem by depositing more money. Would the bank be willing to reverse the fees due to my good-faith effort?"
I didn't ask, "What can we do to fix this?" I didn't say, "I'm unhappy being charged the overdraft fees." I said very plainly, "Here's what I would like to happen: credit me the fees."
And it worked.
Today I sent a very short email to one of my bosses that explained we need a mirror in the video shooting room. We've needed one for a long time, and it keeps getting put off. I asked for exactly what I wanted. And about an hour later, he told me to pick out one on Amazon. I picked out two. He bought both.
Ask for what you want. You just might get it. And the worst thing that usually happens is someone says, "No."