Finding Career Chutzpah: Why We Don’t Ask for What We Need at Work

Photo by Damiano Baschiera on Unsplash

It is difficult to ask for what we need career-wise.

But, that hesitation doesn’t make us less deserving. We all have something we need, whether it is guidance, a more flexible schedule, increased challenge or exposure.

But we are fearful. We hesitate. We role-play the potential outcome of the conversations in our minds.

To progress in today’s world of work, mastering “the ask” is an absolute necessity. Wherever you find yourself in your career journey — asking for what we need is simply a challenge we must overcome. If not we begin to “whither on the vine”.

How do we address this common problem? Rather than examining the “hows” of asking for what we need — let’s examine the “whys” behind our hesitation.

A few things that hold us back:

  • We’re in the dark about our performance. In some cases, we are simply unsure of our actual worth. Why? Because we don’t seek honest feedback. Asking your boss, clients or colleagues, “How did you feel about the work I completed?” is a fair and reasonable question. So — ask away. We need to know where we stand to feel we are in any position of power. Gathering the facts is really the only way.
  • A couple of “hard knocks”. In part, this is all a confidence game, and we have all experienced setbacks at work. Because of these experiences, we can develop a bit of a “blind spot” concerning our true value. We become guarded and hesitate to take risks. In the end, we have to look at failures as learning experiences — then commit to looking forward. Just remember, you are in good company.
  • We hate to brag. This is really tough one. Most of us feel we shouldn’t “toot our own horn” or play up our strengths. However, to secure that needed “leg up” — we need to ensure that others are noticing our work. A little well-placed “Marketing” is a necessity. Mention skills and accomplishments as “data points” that directly relate to the opportunities that are being discussed.
  • We don’t like to ask for anything. You may not like to depend on anyone to help secure your future. You may even think this would cause you to appear needy or less competent. Remember that no one is an island. It actually takes many people to build a meaningful career.  So open yourself up to reach out.
  • We’ve made unreasonable comparisons. Sometimes we feel unworthy because we are drawing unhealthy comparisons in relation to the careers of others (and judging ourselves harshly). We feel we don’t measure up and don’t have any claim to valuable outcomes. The imposter syndrome can also be at play — so be sure to face your doubts, as they are likely unreasonable.
  • We are afraid of the word “No”. The prospect of being rejected is never a pleasant — and hearing a negative response is a possibility. However, remember that we have the ability to recover.

This dynamic takes time to overcome. Simply start small and work your way forward. Asking for what you want or deserve might be difficult the first time around — but the process will get easier.

Just remember this: If you ask —  you just may get.

Have you been faced with this dilemma? What happened?

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist. She is a charter member of the LinkedIn Influencer Program. Her thoughts on work life have appeared in various outlets including Talent Zoo, Forbes, Quartz and The Huffington Post.

9 thoughts on “Finding Career Chutzpah: Why We Don’t Ask for What We Need at Work

  1. Thanks for posting this article..A well written article and this almost applies to everyone..But many times what happens is people wait for the company to recognize their work and reward suitably..Not to toot your own horn is what has been loaded in the minds historically and people follow the has to consciously practice this by not overdoing it..


  2. Well designed subject & it’s intigrities. The scenario & meaning of Employment is changing very fast from the past few decades.It vary from country to country,even within the same sector &same country This makes unemployed people more vulnerable in terms of job opportunity. In Indian constitution “Employment” is defined as an opportunity where people have liberty TO CHOOSE JOB as per there desire and qualification .PRACTICALLY people are absorbed in one job at point of time and then they do not have scope to change their JOB ANY MORE!!! through out their career .Now a days in Private & Corporate World there is some improvement….


  3. Being true to yourself in the workplace, may not always be supported by others. However, you are absolutely right — if you never venture to take a risk you may always be left to wonder. In one role that I have held, I felt that my salary was decided unfairly and decided to speak up. But, only after I weighed the situation quite carefully. I am not advocating taking extreme actions that may cost you your livelihood. I am simply saying that if you feel you might need or deserve more, but have doubts, examine the source of those doubts. Thanks so much for reading (And commenting.)


  4. There are many times I wonder if I just said things the way they needed to be said, perhaps the others might not like me, but I might admire myself. Have you ever felt this way? or am I just in the clouds somewhere? There seems to be so many do’s and don’ts when going to a job interview that it leaves me to wonder if I should just pull out a script. There are many people that seem to fly through job readiness without nearly as much training, while others like myself languish in a hopeless dissary of job innuendos with out much of way to share what I know or how it might help a company. I like the last response from Philippe R. he seems to get the same impression that I am getting, if your not perfect in the way you present yourself, it’s like the invisible sign on the door gets illuminated, please don’t apply. It’s certainly unsettling as people have to forge a relationship each day with people who may or may not play by the so called rules. It gets disparaging, but each individual I guess has to figure it out for themselves. Mindfields in life are always going to be there, it’s either you get squelched by fear of being blown up by them, or you risk never knowing if they were even mindfields to begin with.


  5. We can fail asking something because we heard once the spectrum of unemployment appear in a conversation, or because we tell ourselves that asking for nothing is the best way, not to be disappointed and to stay many times did i hear that millions of unemployed people are knocking are the door, they would like to have just a work and a salary. Many workers anticipate this kind of scenario and as they don’t like to be manipulated, they don’t take the risk to ask, and i perfectly understand their approach. After me,the point where it blocks for asking for many people is precisely here !


  6. No bragging and not prepared for NO, are the two reasons in my case, in addition to me adopting a Not-worth-the-hassle attitude.


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