The author Nora Roberts has written:

“If you don’t go after what you want, you’ll never have it. If you don’t ask, the answer is always no. If you don’t step forward, you’re always in the same place.”

Unfortunately, many people find asking for what they want, especially at work, hard to do. There are several reasons why. Not surprisingly, a big one is fear.

I’ll Get in Trouble

Whether we desire more responsibility, a raise, or even some career advice, our inner critic convinces us if we ask for what we want, we’ll get in trouble.

We tell ourselves we’ll get fired. We think we’ll be labeled as greedy or selfish. Or, we believe that our work should simply speak for itself. If we do a good job, our boss will notice and reward us accordingly.

Asking is Good Business

The thing is, our own companies know asking is the only way to get. Specifically, to get business and customers. It’s the reason they have sales and marketing departments.

Two examples:

  1. A few years ago Constant Contact spent 38% of their $331 million revenue on marketing. The investment resulted in 16% growth the very next year.
  2. budgets over half of their revenue on sales and marketing.

Even companies with smaller marketing budgets have large sales and marketing teams.

In other words, companies aren’t afraid to ask potential customers for business. They understand the only way to get what they want is to ask for what they want.

Let’s tame our fears and apply that lesson. Asking is good business.

Asking is Uncomfortable

Another reason we put off asking is that it’s uncomfortable. There is no joy in it. What there IS joy in—is giving.

We are social animals who are wired to help each other. Neuroscience has demonstrated that helping others triggers a release of oxytocin—sometimes called the happiness hormone. Giving gives us a boost. By contrast, asking doesn’t do that. There is no ‘rush’ associated with making a request.

However, once you understand that giving is enjoyable, it’s easier to ask for what you want. Just remind yourself you are offering the other person an emotional boost by letting them help you.

Ask for Advice

One tip is to frame your ask as advice. People love to give advice. Let’s say you want career guidance from your boss. Instead of asking:

“How can I get promoted?”

Frame your question with a statement that lets your boss know you are seeking their wise counsel. For example:

“I was hoping you could give me some career advice. I really like working here and want to make a greater contribution. What would you suggest I do to be eligible for a promotion?”

It’s also easier to ask for advice than to ask directly for a promotion.

I Don’t Want to Be a Bother

A third reason people put off asking for what they want is they believe they will be thought of as a pest.

Years ago, I worked at a boutique consultancy as Vice President of Learning and Development. Two hundred people reported up to me. I can’t tell you the number of times someone asked for my help and during the conversation would reveal they’d been suffering with the issue for a long time. When I would ask:

“Why didn’t you come to me sooner?”

They’d say:

“I didn’t want to bother you.”

As it turned out they weren’t a bother at all. In fact, I was glad to learn of the problem so I could fix it.

It still breaks my heart knowing dozens of people had sleepless nights over issues which could have been resolved easily if they’d only been brave enough to ask for help.

Needless suffering.

Keeping Score

Another thing that can get in the way of receiving what you want is keeping score. I’ve seen people who give and give and give thinking eventually their giving will be repaid with a big reward.

Unfortunately, because each time they sacrificed they didn’t speak up, their sacrifice went unnoticed. From the bosses’ perspective they were being a good team player.

Additionally, the very fact they kept track of each instance of giving indicates to me they had a transactional relationship with their boss or organization.

If you find yourself keeping score, it’s a sign it’s time to speak up. Just because you are keeping track doesn’t mean anyone else is. Let them know how you are feeling—and what you want.

Asking is a Skill

Learning to ask for what you want in life is a skill. It’s one the requires a mix of clarity, a little courage and some self-worth. Nora Robert’s knows from what she writes. In her life she’s asked:

  • Her first husband for a divorce
  • Her second husband to build her an office on the 3rd floor of their home so she would have a place to write without being disturbed
  • Publishers to print and distribute her books

She’s now a New York Times best-selling author. She stepped forward. You can too.