Scared to ask for what you need? 6 tips to make it easier

Have you ever walked out of a meeting or away from a conversation and felt like kicking yourself because you didn’t get what you needed?

Chances are the reason you didn’t get what you needed is because you didn’t actually ask for it.

There are numerous reasons why we hold back from asking for what we need:

  • We don’t want to upset or offend the other person
  • We worry about what people will think of us
  • We’re not sure whether what we are asking for is ‘legitimate’ and ‘valid’
  • We don’t have the guts to ask for it
  • We’re concerned about how the other person might react
  • We don’t know what we need or want

Messy deck of cardsIt was the well-known American poet and civil rights activist, Maya Angelou who said: “Ask for what you want and be prepared to get it.”

There’s no doubt that the old adage of “Don’t ask – Don’t get” plays out all the time.  So in a world of constant change and increasing complexity, getting good at asking for what you need is essential for a healthy career and life.

So here’s six tips to make it easier for you:

  1. Pick your timing – know the right time of day and environment in which to ask.  Don’t ask if the other person is distracted.  You want their attention.  Also, select a location which suits your purpose and isn’t adversarial.  It’s often better to keep the discussion light and conversational, whilst being purpose driven.
  2. Think ahead – think about the conversation in advance and be ready for it.  You may find that an opportune moment to discuss arises unexpectedly.  I got my first full-time, professional job by doing just that. I had been working as an intern and my manager made a casual remark about how he was going to miss seeing me around the office as my internship was finishing.  I retorted in a light-hearted way: “Well you can change that – you can give me a job.”   He hadn’t thought about it and by me prompting the idea I ended up working there until I finished university.
  3. Recognise your needs – knowing what you need and asking for it is good for your self-esteem.  However, this can be hard as our real needs can be hard to uncover.  It can take time to work this out.  The best way to do this is to identify and reflect on the difference between your wants and needs.  Wants are things you desire and are non-essential, whereas needs are more essential.
  4. Be explicit – this makes it easier for the other person.  The more explicit you are about your needs, the easier it is for the other person to know whether they can deliver on those expectations.
  5. Care for the other person’s needs – don’t make the other person feel uncomfortable or backed into a corner.  They need to feel as though they have options as this makes it easier for them to want to meet your needs. This also means you need to be reasonable and not ask for something the other person can’t give you.
  6. Recognise the no – no one always gets everything they ask for. It can be hard to accept that life’s not always about you.  If you don’t get the ‘yes’ you’re seeking don’t think you’ve wasted your time.  It takes courage to put yourself out there and make your needs heard.  So even if the ask isn’t accepted, at least you’ve expressed your needs.  And who knows – you may well get the ‘yes’ next time as you can always ask again!

Change happens. Make it work for you.

Michelle Gibbings is a change and leadership expert and founder of Change Meridian.  Michelle works with global leaders and teams to help them accelerate progress. She is the Author of ‘Step Up: How to Build Your Influence at Work’.  For more information: or contact

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