Recently a friend of mine – and by that I mean ‘way too many people I know, but this article will flow better if I pretend I’m talking about a single person’ – told me that he’s miserable in his job. He’s working far too many hours with no relief in sight, sees no opportunity for a promotion or raise to alleviate the frustration of working too much, and feels like most of the work he does is annoying. It’s been this way for over a year now. We were shooting pool and having a couple drinks when he told me – or maybe we were barbecuing something and having a couple drinks. I’m not sure exactly, except that I know drinks were involved, and I also know that none of these people ever ask my opinion about what they should do. It doesn’t occur to them, because they don’t think there’s anything they can do.
However, if they ever had asked my advice, I’d have told them this: if you don’t change anything about yourself, then nothing about your situation is likely to change either. We don’t improve our homes by waiting around for some bored contractor to come along and upgrade everything free of charge, and we don’t improve our clarinet skills by staring at a clarinet and waiting for it to speak to us.
So if you are unhappy with where you are professionally, or if you’re not unhappy but think you still have some room to climb, here are three ways to get what you want.
Ask For What You Want!
This should be so obvious that I should be ashamed to write it, but I’m constantly baffled by how many people overlook this one. If you are working 80 hours a week and want to drop down to a measly 60 or even – gasp! – want to get paid extra for doing twice as much work as you should be, then ask for it! If you want a promotion and feel like you’ve got the experience and skills to handle the extra responsibility, then let people know you’re interested in that kind of opportunity. I think those of us who fail to do this are terrified that someone in a position of authority is going to tell us no, but let’s examine that for a second. If I lived my life worried that someone might tell me no, then I’m certain I would never gone on a date or managed to stay out past midnight in high school. The worst thing that can happen to you isn’t somebody telling you no. The worst thing is for you to be unhappy without making any effort to correct that.
Remember That It’s a Negotiation
This is an extremely easy one to overlook, too. Most of us think of these conversations as all-or-nothing. In other words, it’s a $5,000-a-year-raise or nothing. It’s 2 more weeks of vacation or nothing. But there’s a lot of wiggle room with this stuff, and anything you get will be better than what you currently have. So if you ask for two more weeks of vacation but only manage to get one, remember that you’ve moved yourself closer to where you want to be. A request for a promotion might turn into a leadership opportunity that won’t earn you more money but will give you a new challenge and the kind of experience you’ll need when it’s time to push for that promotion next time. Just because you don’t get everything you want doesn’t mean you have to settle for nothing.
Besides, most people – and this includes your boss – are very unwilling to give you none of what you’re asking for, especially if you’re the kind of employee they don’t want to see walk out the door. So use that to your advantage. Lean on them, and more often than not you’ll be surprised at how much you can walk away with.
Have a Back-Up Alternative
It’s a bedrock rule of negotiating that the person who wins is the one who has the least to lose. So if you’ve pinned all your hopes on achieving a particular, specific outcome, then you might be so worried about failing to get it that you’ll sabotage yourself by not asking in the first place. Which is why you should have some additional options that will satisfy you. And this includes looking for a new job! Imagine how much more relaxed you would be if you could walk into your boss’s office and say, “Hey, I’m sick of working 65 hours a week, I actually sort of like my family, so this needs to change. But if you decide not to listen, that’s cool – I’ve got another company waiting to hear back from me this week.” In that scenario, you absolutely couldn’t lose.
I have a weird job that most people don’t even think is an actual job, but I like it and it treats me well and I have it for three reasons – I pursued what I wanted, I was comfortable with the fact that it probably wouldn’t be perfect, and I always knew that if this didn’t work out I could find something else. And I’d like the same thing to happen for you.