Janet Walkow Christine Jacobs

Asking for What You Want

“Ask for what you want and be prepared to get it!” ….Maya Angelou


Have you ever ended a phone call making plans with a friend and thought, “Why didn’t I just tell her that I don’t really like the restaurant she picked….or that I really wanted to see a different movie”? Or, how about finishing a meeting with your boss and wanting to kick yourself for not using the opportunity to talk about a new project idea you want to pursue or the raise you know you deserve?

We all know people who appear to always get what they want. What’s their secret? It may sound easy, but my personal experience is that it’s not as simple as it seems. It can be difficult to ask for what you want—this involves a process of knowing what you want, owning it, communicating it effectively, and dealing with the outcome(s).

Knowing What You Want

The first step is knowing what you want, which can be more difficult than knowing what you don’t want. For example, when I go out to eat, looking at the menu begins as a process of elimination. Most people have food preferences – in addition, I have food allergies – so the first scan of the menu helps determine doesn’t work and the options that sound appealing. Even then, the combination that you really want isn’t on the menu. Okay, I’m picky, but why do they always have sauces and glazes on fish, when I really like it simply grilled? Knowing what you want could be as trivial as ordering dinner, deciding what movie to watch or as important as what you want in a relationships, work and personal goals.

Owning Your Ask

You’ve decided that you’re going to ask for a raise at work or have a conversation with your partner about dividing up responsibilities at home. You know it’s the right thing to do but keep putting it off. Sometimes we may know what we want but haven’t convinced ourselves that we deserve it. Outside influences or internal voices can make it hard to allow yourself to feel you deserve things.  A boss ‘reminds’ you that your colleagues with families have greater financial needs than you as a single person. You put pressure on yourself that you should be able to juggle work and getting a healthy dinner on the table for your family. But, you need to convince yourself that you deserve what you’re asking for if you want to be heard by others.

The Ask

Nora Ephron sums it up: “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.” You may deserve a raise, help with responsibilities, a voice in what you do with friends, but without expressing your views, opinions and wants, you can’t expect anyone to be clairvoyant. It’s easy to take the path of least resistance and let things simply happen. Sometimes you have to get out of your comfort zone to move forward. Asking for what you want can be scary. It might help to practice your communication with a trusted friend or colleague so that you’ll be more confident when asking.


You decide what you want, know you deserve what you’re asking for, and go for it. Best case, you get what you ask for. Congratulations. But what if things fall flat? Are you a failure? The simple answer is no. Asking for what you want (and deserve) is a victory in itself. I haven’t received every raise or promotion requested, gotten my way when I voiced a preference on where to vacation, or how to deal with bad behavior.  We don’t always get what we want the first time or even the second time we ask. The timing may be off or people may not be ready for a change.

Many of the factors which decide an outcome are outside of your control. However, you are in charge of how you react to it. You need to decide whether to stay in a situation or whether it’s a signal that you should consider moving on. Whatever you decide, you’re moving forward.

I look back and realize that I’ve been good about asking for what I want over the years.  Even though I’m not always successful, asking has left me without regrets. Some requests are simple, others more complex. I can usually obtain salmon simply grilled with olive oil and lemon, even it it’s not on the menu. I ask.

Janet Walkow is the Executive Director and Chief Technology Officer of the Drug Dynamics Institute at The University of Texas and a co-founder of Leading Women. Read her full bio.

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