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How to Ask for What You Need at Work

Two people at work. One of them is raising their hand.

Even when your nonprofit job is rewarding, there may still be times when you feel compelled to re-examine things a bit, if only to keep yourself on the right track.

And one you go down that road of exploring what may need to change, it can be difficult to work up the nerve to ask for what you need without experiencing a bit of guilt or self-doubt.

However, it’s absolutely possible for you to respectfully communicate your needs to colleagues and supervisors with confidence. So if there’s something you feel you need or deserve in the workplace, here’s how to confidently make that request.

How does your employer benefit?

If there is something that you need at work—more time to complete your tasks, an ergonomic desk setup, the ability to work from home on occasion—rather than simply asking, take some time to identify how addressing this need could benefit your employer.

Sure, you could just ask your supervisor for the ability to work remotely and she may very well grant you that privilege without much discussion or concern. However, if you’re able to make your case not only for why you’d like to see this change but also, for how it will benefit your work long term, it’s much more likely that your request will be granted.

Once you are given permission to do whatever it is that you're requesting, the ultimate ability to actually prove that the new arrangement is benefitting your organization in the ways you had initially cited, your supervisor is likely to keep this positive result in mind for the next time you make a request.

Let’s use the request to work remotely as our example. Before making your request, try answering the following questions:

  • What are the specifics? Do you want to be able to work from home every Monday? Or perhaps you’d like the ability to work remotely without having to run it by your supervisor each time? Whatever the specifics are, make sure that you include them.
  • If granted, how will this change positively impact your work? Will less time commuting give you more time to get through your tasks? Be sure to jot down all benefits that you can think of, no matter how small.
  • If granted, how will this change positively impact the organization? If there is any money or time to be saved by granting your request, don’t forget to include that in your notes!

Once you’ve had time to prepare, you’ll be ready to confidently ask for whatever it is that you feel you need in order to be the best employee you can be.

Don’t apologize!

The way you approach the ask can be critical to your success. If you approach the situation from an apologetic standpoint, you may send the message that your needs aren’t especially important or urgent.

Imagine beginning the conversation like this:

“I’m so sorry to interrupt you, but I would like to talk with you when you get a chance about a job responsibility I don’t feel that I can complete.”

Even an understanding boss may misinterpret what you need as something to handle at a later date instead of now. Instead, using gratitude instead of an apology shifts the request:

“I appreciate your attention on this matter. This job responsibility has recently landed on my plate, but I need to shift it to [SPECIFIC PERSON OR DEPARTMENT] so that we know everything will be completed before second-quarter reporting.”

As you can see, the second example doesn’t include an apology and gives the recipient a tangible plan of action.

Offer to answer questions or concerns

Once you’ve made your request, avoid the urge to apologize by instead, offering to answer any questions. Informed dialogue is like an open door for you and the recipient. If your supervisor has concerns, you could say:

“I appreciate you bringing this to my attention. I’ve considered the situation you’re concerned about and I believe I can put your mind at ease by offering [SOLUTION].”

And if you haven’t thought of a solution to your supervisor’s main concern, you could direct the conversation by saying:

“This is a great question and one that I hadn’t considered. I’d love to sit down with you or a member of the team and create a plan for this contingency. We could meet again in a week if that works for you.”

Sometimes at work, we can feel pressure to put others’ needs before their own. However, asking for what you need is critical to your health and crucial to maintaining your career trajectory and can build trust and authenticity among coworkers.

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About the Author | Elizabeth Wallace is a Nashville-based freelance writer specializing in expertise-building, pillar blog posts and white papers. She’s also a 13 year veteran of the ESL/adult language acquisition field.

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