A lot of women hate asking for things. We don’t want to impose, we fear ‘no’, we fear other people judging and resenting us for asking in the first place.
I’ve written and broadcast many times about women’s difficulty in asking for raises – and how they’re judged when they do. But it’s not just raises that stymie us. It’s making any kind of ask. This came up in my latest show on women and stress. Psychotherapist Marjorie Hirsch made a simple but excellent point: she encourages her stressed-out clients to ask questions that could help reduce their stress.
Take the woman she talked about in the podcast whose boss was sending her emails all weekend. The woman felt her anxiety rising from Saturday morning through Sunday evening. She was frazzled and felt her free time slipping away. Hirsch said, ‘Well, have you asked your boss if she expects you to read these emails?’ The client had not. The following week she did just that, asking her boss what her expectations were. The boss told her no, she didn’t expect her to read and act on them over the weekend, she was simply unloading tasks in the expectation her employee would follow through during the week. This client prompt sounds so simple as to be almost redundant, but it’s not.
When we’re in a spiral of stress and/or anxiety we are not necessarily thinking straight. I started seeing Marjorie Hirsch myself when my own father was dying several years ago and I was a mess. One of my big fears, being single at the time, was that I would get ‘the call’ from England and have to pack up in a state of great distress and go to the airport on my own. This idea scared and depressed me to no end and I couldn’t get it out of my head. Marjorie made a suggestion: why not ask a couple of friends if they’d be up for getting my possible middle-of- the-night-in-tears call and be willing to come with me to the airport when I could book a flight? That is such sensible, simple advice, yet I couldn’t see it myself. For one thing, I wasn't thinking clearly, for another, something in me wouldn’t have wanted to ‘bother’ my friends. Yet as soon as she gave me the advice I could see its strength and immediately got in touch with two friends, who both said yes very quickly. (As it happened I didn’t need to act on this – I was able to be with my father when he died.)
Reluctance to ask for something you need or want is a reality for many women. I just listened to one of Ellevate’s webinars from last month given by Annette Saldana on asking for what you want. She rightly points out that women tend to be held back by mindsets that say either we shouldn’t impose, or that if we ask we won’t get what we want anyway, or that we shouldn’t need to ask in the first place because we do best just powering through achieving everything on our own.
I believe most women who don’t ask keep quiet because of something else Saldana said:
“A lot of what kept me from asking was this perception I’d have to turn into someone I’m not. I didn’t want to do that. I thought taking care of myself and asking was selfish and wrong.”
Exactly. Asking – to many of us – translates to being less than nice, being pushy, putting ourselves before someone else, and we hate that. Upbringing and culture teach women to be good girls, to be happy with what we’ve got. No wonder asking for stuff is so uncomfortable.
Saldana says there are three mindsets to get into for a successful ask.
1) You have the right to ask for anything
2) The other party has the right to say yes or no
3) ‘No’ does not equal ‘you can’t have what you want’. Adopt the point of view that ‘no’ means ‘not now’. It just means that it’s time for another conversation, that there’s someone else you could ask.
Too often I’ve run off into the bushes after a no, assuming nothing more will happen, only to discover later that it was worth re-framing the request and/or asking someone else.
This is important stuff. I wish I had the innate confidence many men have that lets them assume they deserve things. I come from the opposite position, assuming I don’t deserve anything and need permission to do everything.
As Saldana says, it’s time to change that.