Colleagues and clients fully expect us to collaborate with them on reaching our shared business goals, and that process involves regularly exchanging information and insights. So why do we tend to shy away from making direct business requests, opting instead to beat around the bush in an attempt to soften our “intrusion” on their time? Perhaps these phrases sound familiar:
“Could you possibly do me a favor?”
“I’m so sorry to bother you, but…”
“At your convenience, would you maybe have time to…”
Making requests is a normal part of business language, and we should embrace that. There’s absolutely no need to apologize or diminish the importance of a request before we even make it.
One of my clients was working hard to advance her career, and she was doing many things right. She had outstanding mentors, communicated clearly and powerfully, built strong relationships, and delivered results. By all accounts, she was making excellent progress toward moving her career to center stage. That made it particularly frustrating when she was repeatedly passed over for promotions and special projects. In one of our first meetings, I prompted her to describe how she was asking for what she wanted in her career and making requests. She just stared at me. I gave her an example: when you meet with your mentor, are you asking her specifically to recommend you for the next division manager role that opens? By the look on her face, this was a real “aha!” moment.
It had never occurred to this bright, hard-working woman to make a request so directly and so specifically. She had probably missed a lot of chances for exciting roles and projects because she did not make it clear to her boss and other influential people that she wanted increased responsibilities.
After further discussions, my client made another interesting discovery about her communication patterns. She was always very assertive and vocal when it involved her direct reports. If there were problems or her team members needed to do something differently, she had no trouble speaking up and quickly guiding them to correct any issues. She also took every opportunity to ensure her staff got recognition with upper management for bonuses, rewards and promotions. While she felt perfectly comfortable being an enthusiastic advocate for others, she admitted feeling awkward making requests for herself. Once she saw the impact of that disparity, she knew the behavior had to change. Immediately. She was ready to harness the power of making a direct request.
Are you a pro when it comes to making direct requests? Or do you tend to rely on too many softening phrases? If so, try this as your opening line: “I’d like to make a request.” That kind of language gets attention. It’s assertive yet polite, and it moves people forward. Be clear when asking for what you want. A chance to lead an upcoming project. An introduction to a potential strategic partner. A nomination for a corporate award. Whatever it is, just ask.
Now I’d like to make a request. (Wow, see what I did there?) During the next week, please try incorporating this direct-request technique with someone you’ve typically approached in a less assertive manner. I’d love to hear about your results.