Ask (guest article)

“Get what I want ’cause I ask for it,
Not because I’m really that deserving of it” 

If you are a fan of Marina & the Diamonds, you have probably heard this wildly popular track. Outside of being a fun track to dance to, it does offer some very valuable life lessons. My favourite lesson though is the one captured in the above sentences. It is one I thankfully learnt very early in my career, have reaped immense benefits from and am constantly encouraging everyone else to do.

My first ever job began by shadowing an HR Business Partner (HRBP). For two weeks, all new college hires (including me) were assigned to an HRBP each. Our responsibilities comprised of following the HRBP, observing their daily activities and helping them where possible. At the end of the two weeks, we were allocated to our respective teams. I was assigned to be a part of a newly formed team that was responsible for all company-wide HR projects and programmes. I had just emerged from an enjoyable experience of shadowing an HRBP and no intention of doing anything other than be an HRBP myself. Therefore, with my usual self-assured college confidence, I walked into the hiring managers’ cabin and let him know exactly what I wanted to do.

As I put forward my request to be an HRBP, rather than be allocated to my team, I saw a number of emotions run past his face beginning with shock, surprise and then transitioning into amusement at the impertinence of it all. For a few fleeting seconds, I felt like I had made my first career mistake. Fortunately, for me he had sufficient influence and a good heart. He started by saying that he had never before seen someone within the first few weeks of their career turn down a team. He asked me to wait, and within a few weeks, I was an HRBP.

I sometimes wonder how different my life would have turned out had I never asked.

Post the success of that request, I can quote numerous instances where I shed aside inhibitions and asked for things not normally asked for. I have, as a result, received invitations to conferences, access to training, budgets for projects, sponsored flights and more.

As one of my previous managers said, “Always ask for what you want, even if you think it is impossible to receive. What is the worst that can happen? They’ll say no.”

I very quickly learnt that the inhibitions we create in our heads are always larger than those that really exist. Asking for what you want is a competitive advantage in today’s world. Not enough people are asking. That alone increases the likelihood of requests being granted.

There are two important parts to this competitive advantage which are firstly asking and then explaining the rationale behind the request. You thought it was as easy as just asking, didn’t you? As important as it is to ask, the other half of making a successful request is to understand why you want what you want and translating it into a language that others understand. Of course, there are a few other factors such as the right time for a request and so on. However, those are good to consider but not an absolute necessity.

I love challenges and hence here is one for you: think back over the past year and mentally note the opportunities that you potentially missed as a result of not asking. Think over the next few weeks and identify opportunities that you would like but have been hesitant to ask for before. Start small. Very soon, you will realize that it is actually a very simple thing to do. If you have been asking for a while, consider snowballing it into a larger request.

Asking is liberating and an extremely fulfilling exercise. It is the best way to avoid the multiple ‘what if’ questions that haunt us throughout life. It is not a career-limiting move. If anything, it pushes your career forward faster than ever before. It is also one lesson that translates seamlessly from your work life into your personal life.

So tell me – what are you going to ask for next?

Ankita Poddar Bio

This has been a guest article written by Ankita Poddar, an HR professional based out of India. Identified as one of the emerging young HR leaders in India in 2016, Ankita’s experience as an HR Business Partner gives her the opportunity to work closely with business leaders, innovate and execute on the behalf of customers especially in areas of people analytics, employee engagement, rewards and recognition and performance management. Ankita blogs about all things HR at The HR Business Partner Story site. You can follow her on Twitter.

Would you like to write an article for The Avid Doer? Check out this link for more info.

No dramas – Resilience at work

There’s a lot of stuff out there on building resilience which suggests it’s an arduous step-by-step process of laying down the foundations before you can even begin to feel the benefits.

I much prefer the concept and practice of maintaining resilience. What is a simple language shift means that my perspective has shifted to my existing resilience and I just need to take the reins and follow it through.

I’ve read an excellent piece by Barry Winbolt – trainer, coach and psychotherapist – on resilience in the workplace, explaining that this is an active, not passive process. This means it requires ongoing effort and conscious decisions.

The article includes an eloquent quote from Salvatore Maddi and Deborah Khoshaba’s book Resilience at work: How to succeed no matter what life throws at you (American Management Association, 2005) about the attitudes that come with resilience:

“Simply put, these attitudes are commitment, control, and challenge. As times get tough, if you hold these attitudes, you’ll believe that it is best to stay involved with the people and events around you (commitment) rather than to pull out, to keep trying to influence the outcomes in which you are involved (control) rather than to give up, and to try to discover how you can grow through the stress (challenge) rather than to bemoan your fate.”

What challenges are you avoiding or struggling with? Identify these challenges and, as Winbolt says, “develop the habit of using challenges as opportunities to acquire or master skills”.

Gracefully disruptive

Disruption is essential in the workplace when it comes to challenging the status quo (for the right reasons of course). Practices and methods become engrained into the team, into the organisation, and over time these are met with reluctance to change.

‘This is how it’s always been done’, you’re told. ‘It’s worked fine without anyone sticking their nose in’.

‘Don’t fix what ain’t broke’…and all that carry on.

In order to progress – whether it’s professionally, entrepreneurially, or at work – there needs to be disruption. I deliberately use the word ‘progress’ too, as opposed to ‘get ahead’.

Many people can get ahead without disruption. Indeed they use the status quo to their advantage by seemingly playing the safe route to get ahead.

However, by choosing this option, they miss out on the opportunities to broaden their mind, develop existing skills, and be open to new learning experiences.

Where’s the problem-solving? Where’s the creative thinking? Where’s the approach that’s right for you?

This route is too narrow, having been formed probably years ago, and one that once worked either appropriately to the time or the individual (or both).

By being disruptive, you ensure that unexplored territory is identified, examined, assessed and tried out. And with such big risks may come big rewards.

So what do I mean by disruption?

Being disruptive is not about talking the loudest or stamping your feet the hardest. It’s about applying curiosity and inquisitiveness into questioning already-mapped-out procedures, career paths, processes, ways of working, even thought processes, and seeing if there’s a better way.

‘Rocking the boat’ sounds almost destructive, and we’re not rocking it to be awkward. Where a boat rocks comes ripples that could have a detrimental impact to the ecology and banks of the river for example. Without forward thinking, this could ruin any sort of credibility to going against the status quo again.

The term I much prefer is gracefully disruptive. It’s challenging status quo with grace, with forethought and thorough consideration.

So how do you become more gracefully disruptive?

Firstly, you need to understand why you want to be disruptive, and understand when you shouldn’t be disruptive.

The latter is probably the best starting by process of elimination. When you shouldn’t be disruptive is where emotion plays a heavy part in the decision making.

Using emotion to steer your disruption won’t be graceful. Of course emotion can be the foundation of the decision-making, the stimulus that urges you to react for a greater cause or better way to do things, but you mustn’t let it rule your actions.

Emotions, most times, are temporary. Your actions can be permanent. Tread carefully – or better yet let your head determine your actions.

Having decided to take a more emotionally intelligent approach, you can move on to why you should be disruptive.

Why bother?

The very act of being gracefully disruptive itself will provide you with strong leadership capabilities.

This isn’t necessarily leadership over people (although it can be); it can be leadership over processes, your career, your fate, your confidence – anything that is within your control that you have found, over time, slowly but surely, has been consumed by the status quo, or by other people’s assumptions that their way is best.

‘You need a degree for a good job’, they say, ‘that’s the way it’s always been done if you want a decent job.’

Not true at all; you can be successful without one (while also not drowning in tens of thousands worth of debt).

‘You need to do this particular process in this particular way because that’s how it’s done.’

Not necessarily; when was the last time this process was questioned? Is there a better way we can be doing this? Isn’t it time that this process is assessed for efficiency? If new ways haven’t been explored before, isn’t it narrow minded and dismissive to insist that this one way is the way?

‘You have to stick with one job with one interest in order to do well for yourself, nobody likes a job-hopper.’

Not the case; portfolio careers have proven successful for many professionals now and indeed may help them stand out from the crowd. New learning and new experiences have led these to the point where they have a unique set of skills that play off of each other and open up new, more effective ways of doing things.

Avid Doers v The Naysayers

This is where we avid doers can do so well in. We refuse to accept that one way of doing things is the way of doing things.

We have the stubbornness and can-do attitude to make things happen, and adopting a gracefully disruptive approach to our endeavours can only lead us to things quicker, more efficiently and more effectively.

Unfortunately there will be (and are) naysayers who like things mainstream and consistent with solid, trustworthy practices, and see avid doers as being awkward or sometimes even clueless. They don’t ‘avidly do’, they passively do, and therefore dismiss any sort of alternative ways of thinking.

Let’s question how things are done. Let’s disprove that the one way is the only way.

Let’s explore new ways of doing things that are right for us and our career and developmental needs.

Think of the learning and development opportunities that would go amiss if we didn’t question what is already in front of us and instead decide what is right for us by being gracefully disruptive.

Recording yourself to improve your verbal communication

I’m delivering this post, very aptly, as a video post today in which I talk about recording yourself to improve your verbal communication.

In this video, I cover:

  • The benefits of recording yourself, including getting over the ‘umms…’, getting used to your voice, and being conscious of your body language
  • How the recording set up is easier than you think
  • What to say when you’re recording yourself
  • And the things to avoid.

I’m hoping to do more of these video posts every now and then. Let me know what you think!