The Coach's Corner

How to ask for what you want

The Coach’s Corner Newsletter #22

Once you are clear on what you want, how do you handle the next step of engaging with your colleagues or loved ones to inform them of that need for support, alignment or even a major shift?

Let’s say you’re a negotiator trying to establish an agreement or truce between two warring parties. Maybe you know there are layoffs around the corner, and this is your window for a promotion. Or you recognize two more team members with special expertise are essential to complete a project, and you’ll have to snag them from a colleague’s org to get their help.

Not one of these situation is straightforward. But each establishes you as a leader when you have the conviction and clarity to ask for what you want. These decisions separate the tenacious from the timid – even if the desired result isn’t achieved on the first attempt, or possibly at all. Marshall Goldsmith, in his book, The Earned Life, captures this poignantly.

We are living an earned life when the choices, risks and effort we make in each moment align with an overarching purpose in our lives, regardless of the eventual outcome.

Today’s headline – how to ask for what you want – is being highlighted in various efforts throughout the middle east and the world to obtain a pause in the Hamas-Israel war. A client shares an insight on how he shifted to clear and direct communication after recognizing that avoiding crises in his workplace wasn’t working. And to step into the fray, I offer Brene Brown’s tool to rumble, which emerges from her brilliant piece, “Clear is kind. Unclear is unkind.” Let’s dive in.


How to ask for what you want

Secretary of State Antony Blinken has spent the past weekend racing through the middle east. He went from Israel to Jordan, the occupied West Bank, Cyprus and Iraq toTurkey. He’s been carrying the Biden administration’s proposal for ‘humanitarian pauses’ to Israel’s campaign in Gaza. Blinken told reporters,

this is a work in progress, We don’t obviously agree on everything, but there are common views on some of the imperatives of the moment that we’re working on together.

On Wednesday, Blinken and foreign ministers from Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Japan and Italy (the Group of Seven leading democracies) called for ‘urgent action’ in a joint statement:

All parties must allow unimpeded humanitarian support for civilians, including food, water, medical care, fuel and shelter, and access for humanitarian workers. We support humanitarian pauses and corridors to facilitate urgently needed assistance, civilian movement and the release of hostages.

Read the full AP news story.

This persistent dialogue, tough conversation and call for clear parameters is essential – even when there is no immediate resolution.


Clear and direct communication

When Robert felt pushed by his team to work on specific projects, he told me he used to have a pattern.

“I would check to see the pulse of the biggest naysayer. Then I would try to figure out how much power she had over the rest of the team. If I believed I had a response she could handle, I would pitch my resolution. I simply did not want to be ‘that’ guy who was causing a stir. I felt like it made me too vulnerable, there was a chance I could fail miserably and I didn’t want to appear as if I could lose control of my team.”

His sentiments are echoed in a Harvard Business Review article, “Why it’s so hard to ask for help,” written by Manfred F.R. Kets de Vries.

Asking for help is not a sign of weakness. To the contrary, it can be one of the more courageous things you can do. It can also improve your relationships and free up time for you to focus on your most mission-critical tasks at work and at home. So don’t make the mistake of always trying to go it alone. Be smart enough to know when you need help and to ask for it effectively.

The shift for Robert was a gift from his ‘naysayer,’ when he asked, “Robert, what’s holding you back from being clear with the whole team?”

Feeling like he’d been given a lifeline, he went all in. Calling a team meeting, he outlined the workload they needed to tackle and walked them through his initiative step by step. One of the team members took on the role of creating a screen with all of the assignments clearly defined for each member. Another established a slack channel to keep their duties on task.

Robert was amazed. While he still feels tension having to be clear and direct with his team from time to time, he realizes this is better than the pain of avoiding the situation. He sees the importance of consistency as he leads his team, so he says he’s ready to do this again.


Ready to rumble?

In my work, I find that whenever a client uses this tool from Brene Brown’s article, “Clear is kind. Unclear is unkind,” the realization is almost immediate.

When you are vague and don’t speak up – for WHATEVER reason – you may think you’re being kind. Brown disagrees, saying that being unclear is actually unkind.

Here’s why. When you’re not clear about expectations up front – and then you hold someone accountable for not delivering – everyone loses.

So if you’re ready to tackle a tough issue, here’s how to participate in what Brown calls a rumble: defined as a discussion, conversation or meeting. How do you use this tool?

  • Lean into vulnerability, stay curious and generous, stick with the messy middle of problem identification and solving.
  • When necessary, take a break and circle back.
  • Be fearless in owning your parts.
  • Listen with the same passion with which you want to be heard.

Brown says when she rumbles,

it cues me to show up with an open heart and mind so we can serve the work and each other, not our egos.

My takeaway

Asking for what you want poses challenges especially because you don’t know the outcome.

Something truly earned, according to Goldsmith, makes three requirements of us:

  1. Know what you want and how far you need to go.
  2. Accept the risk involved.
  3. Put out maximum effort.

Whenever I feel that pit in my stomach after I’ve arrived at an important decision, I know it’s part of the energy I get to use if I’m willing to move forward. Taking a deep breath, I have a choice.

How far do I want to go with this? Am I willing to risk whatever the response may be? What does maximum effort look like?

So I practice the rumble and realize I do have the courage to ask for what I want. Regardless of the outcome.

What do you find when you step outside your comfort zone?

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