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Asking the Right Questions in Leadership

How often do you ask for what you want? Better yet, do you get what you ask for? We as women have a module on the power and importance of asking for what you want. It usually brings up lots of memories of being a “good girl” as a kid, or of hearing parents say “it’s not polite to ask, just wait till you are given”.

Most women are hesitant, you can translate that to compliant; to be pleasers rather than truth tellers.

It is a pattern handed from generation to generation, mother to daughter. In the past women learned that to speak out could mean abandonment; in some societies, even death. So, we learned to preserve relationships by being quiet and accepting what we were given.

Even the changes since Betty Freidan’s groundbreaking “The Feminine Mystique” have only taken us so far. There is still reticence in speaking out for what we want. Those of us who do speak out are seen as adversarial, nasty, angry individuals who are grabbers by nature.

What will it take to change this image? I believe we, as women, know how to ask, know how to negotiate, and especially know how to be fair. We value relationships and collaboration and often we give in to “keep the peace”.

There is a middle way between the “eye for an eye” way of asking, or rather telling and the shoulder shrug of “whatever you say” way. This middle way is where women have amazing skill; we just need the confidence to follow through and not crumble when we are stared down by our male counterparts.

Here are some quick tips on how to ask and get what you want without selling yourself down the river of argument and finger pointing.

1. Acknowledge: the other before you state your position: we can almost always see the other side. This is not manipulative; it really is at the heart of the art of asking. Everyone wants to be acknowledged, so you stand a better chance of getting what you want by offering an olive branch, or at least a statement that they are in this with you too.

2. Listen and hear: say “I hear you”; these three words are super powerful. Along with acknowledgment we all have a natural desire to be heard. Women for the most part are great listeners. When you use these words, yes, say them out loud to the other person it creates a human bond. If they do not know enough to return the favor, merely ask “Can you tell me what you are hearing me saying”. It really helps.

3. Connect: no matter how tough the art of the ask is, know that we are all connected and no one wins unless we all do. With this as a backdrop find a place where you can connect and share something with the other; do you both have lots of direct reports, do you live on the far side of town, do you both have flyaway hair? Even something miniscule will find its way to the heart.

4. Respect: No matter who went to the fancy school, or who drives the hottest car, you need to give respect to expect respect. Positions mean less when you are in the heart of the “art of the ask” than you would believe. See you and the other as equals, two individuals swimming through the waves of life, each with personal skills, talents, burdens, and weaknesses.

5. Believe: in what you want and need. Be clear and concise, yet come prepared with your arsenal of points on why you should have what you ask for. Intention is at least 75% of the issue. When you feel certain, don’t waver. It’s okay to ask, and it’s okay to do it from the understanding of relationships that is foundational knowledge for most women.

Here is the overriding idea: we can break through barriers in the workplace using the same skills and tools we have in our back pockets for resolving issues in the family. Using logic and intuition is an unbeatable combination.

This is our time to do the final push to change the model for giving and getting and find the freedom that comes when we move from pleaser to truth teller, and let the old, out-moded cultural patterns rest in the history books.

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