How Hard is it to ASK?

I’ve heard two complaints recently that seem to come from the same root cause: reluctance to make a request.

#1. A technical specialist– let’s call her Sara – tells me that both she and her Supervisor agree that the Senior Manager of their department is a jerk. This Senior Manager makes decisions without consulting the parties involved, dodges any sign of confrontation (i.e., straight talk), and, when under pressure to explain her decisions, lies about what she did, pointing the blame toward someone else.

#2. An external consultant – let’s call him Derek – says he has offered to provide an analysis for his client that would improve the effectiveness of the program he will be leading next month. His client seems interested, but won’t commit. Derek needs to know, because parts of his program depends on the results of the analysis, and the clock is ticking.

In both cases, there is a reluctance to approach someone head-on and ask them for a decision. Maybe it’s because Sara and Derek don’t think they’ll get the decision they want. Or maybe it’s because they don’t think that asking will produce any result at all.

Making a request sounds simple, but it isn’t. You have to think about it: what action do you really want them to take?  This thinking is made even more difficult if you believe that making a request won’t do any good, or could even cause bigger problems than you already have.

After some consideration about how to get a decision made, Sara and Derek agreed to find the right person and go ahead and ask. Here’s how those two situations were resolved:

#1. Sara went over the “jerk” Senior Manager’s head and asked the VP of her company, after a recent meeting he led, if he would want to know when one of his VPs was causing problems for underlings. The VP said of course he’d want to know. So Sara asked, “Would you be willing to look at this recent change of scheduling for client advisory meetings, and let me know if you think some of the managers of those client accounts should be included in that kind of schedule changes?”  The VP looked at the situation, and a week later told Sara that new rules were now in place. “Scheduling decisions”, the VP said, “will now be made to include all the people involved in client account management and service. Thanks for calling my attention to this.”

#2. Derek went right to his client and asked, “Can we schedule this analysis for next Tuesday and Wednesday? Those are the only two days I have available to collect the results in time to summarize the results before the program”. His client, faced with a real deadline, said No. Derek was disappointed, but at least he had the one thing he wanted most: certainty. Now he knew how to schedule his time and how to prepare the program.

Complaining about a workplace problem is much easier than looking to see who can actually solve the problem, and then figuring out how to phrase the request to get that person to take action.

“I didn’t think I should have to ask,” Sara told me. “I thought the VP should already know what the Senior Managers are doing, and he should fix it when they do stupid things. I guess that’s a little naive.” In an ideal world, people would know everything we think they’re supposed to know. Alas, none of us live in that world.

Learn to make good requests and you’ll improve the quality of your life. I promise.

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