How often have you found yourself apologizing because you asked for something--a payment, a project, or a promotion--that you had already more than earned? It’s a self-destructive habit, and one everyone should learn to break. I know--I’m guilty of this myself. Just last week, I caught myself as I was about to apologize profusely for reminding a client to send a payment that was more than a month late.
I don’t know what makes some of us so reluctant to stick up for our needs and interests. Perhaps it’s leftover childhood training telling us not to be too loud or too selfish. There’s a legend that the reason Diana Vreeland worked 26 years at Harper’s Bazaar without getting a raise is that she never asked for one. Whether or not that’s true, it’s certain that most people could do a better job of sticking up for their well-being, especially in the workplace.
So before the next time you apologize for asking for something you know you should get (or worse, say nothing at all), stop and consider these questions:
1. What if it were someone you loved?
What if, instead of yourself, it was your child or partner who wasn’t getting a deserved payment, promotion, or plum assignment? Chances are, in that case, you wouldn’t apologize for making waves. You’d insist, loudly, that your loved one receive what he or she had coming, and you wouldn’t shut up until the matter was resolved.
Shouldn’t you care about your own well-being, as well as that of your loved ones’? Shouldn’t you be as good an advocate for yourself as you are for anyone else?
2. How would you feel if the roles were reversed?
What if one of your employees or business partners or customers didn't get what she believed she deserved? Wouldn’t you want her to tell you? You might agree, in which case you’d want to rectify the situation. You might disagree, in which case you’d want to explain your reasoning. But you’d have no opportunity to do either of those things unless she spoke up.
You’re doing your boss, business partner, or other associate a favor when you ask for what you deserve. If she's smart, she will be grateful you did.
3. Shouldn’t you take your accomplishments seriously?
No one knows as well as you do what you want and need. And chances are that no one but you is keeping close track of the hard work you do and the successes you’ve had. If you don’t tell the people who count about those accomplishments, they won’t know. And if you don’t tell them what you need and deserve in return, they won’t know that either.
4. What tone do you want to set for the future?
You’re setting a precedent for future interactions, and for how your boss, customer, or business contact is likely to think about you. Do you want that to be as someone who apologizes for everything, who asks permission and tries not to be a bother? Or as someone who values his own accomplishments, and knows his abilities and worth? Which is likely to bring you the next promotion, plum assignment, or business deal?
5. Do you want to come across as confident or mousey?
An apology can make you look professional, but only if you legitimately have something to apologize for. Apologizing for things you didn’t do, and especially apologizing for asking for or demanding what you deserve, does not add to your image of professionalism. It sends the signal that you either don’t value your own work enough to stand up for what you’re owed, or else lack the confidence to do so.
A simple, factual statement of what you’ve done and what you have coming as a result leaves a much more self-assured, professional impression on the listener. And whether or not you get what you’re asking for, that’s the image you want that person to have.