What you need to know about getting what you want at work

By Sarah Winfrey on 2 May 2007 (Updated 9 February 2010) comments

Forward?

Yesterday, I had a one-on-one with my boss. The first time I had one of these (and the last, until yesterday), I was, quite frankly, intimidated. Then, I didn't know what to expect and I knew that I was getting my yearly review, so I basically nodded and smiled at everything my boss said. Now, it was almost all positive so it wasn't like I was letting him run me over. But I wasn't proactive in getting what I wanted, either.

Yesterday was different. I knew the meeting was coming up, and I also knew that my job had changed recently and I wasn't thrilled with those changes. So I did some thinking and wrote out a list of things I wanted to say, in an order that made sense to me, and took that list to the meeting. When he asked me how it was going, I started in.

I told him that I feel under-utilized, that I was brought in to make some changes and now was supposed to simply function within the processes I'd set up. That's when the conversation changed. He started talking about this new position that he's creating, and how people had told him to merge it with mine but he wasn't sure, and what did I think about doing it. I was astonished. The new position is managerial, making it a huge promotion from where I've been. It involves a lot more responsibility and decision-making. It involves working with people instead of mostly with machines. I was flattered, but also able to give him some good feedback as to what it would take for that to be possible.

Now, I don't have the new job yet. The job description isn't even written. But his willingness to address my concerns on that level makes me confident that it will be something i'll be interested in when it does come out. Now, I chose my company, and my department within my company, as carefully as possible. That list I made yesterday? All things that I have in my job. But, unless your company is as bad as some of Troy's former employers, here are some things that worked for me and should work for you.

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  • Be intentional. Sit down and think about what you want to say and how you want to say it. Dress in a way that will impress your boss and not make him wonder exactly how much you care.
  • Be specific. While I didn't get through my entire list (his openness to what I did say generated such a discussion that our meeting went almost an hour over and I ran out of time), it included specific items that I would like changed. When I told him I felt under-utilized, I had a list of things I thought I could do for our department that would help. I was going to ask about working from home, and I had a list of the tasks I would do there and what would have to be taken care of for the plan to work.
  • Don't be afraid to share how something makes you feel. This one can be dangerous. DO NOT emote all over your boss. DO NOT give him your feelings and make him do something with them. But, after you've processed your feelings somewhere else, do give him your emotional feedback. "I know that my job doesn't require a laptop, but I feel awkward sitting in meetings where I'm the only woman and the only person not issued one because it makes people tend to look to me as the secretary and not for what my job really is" is better than "I felt like crying last week when Mr. X asked me to make copies in the middle of the meeting because he thought I was your secretary and not your colleague...please give me a laptop so things like that don't happen!" While this issue is quite possibly specific to my company, such things do come up and it's ok to share them.h
  • Have in mind what is realistic for now. I was going to talk to my boss about working from home, but I didn't expect him to approve it in this meeting. I wanted to bring it to his attention and talk specifically about it as something I think is realistic, so that someday I will get to work from home. A boss isn't going to change the department in one fell swoop over something you ask for, but bringing it up over and over, in non-threatening ways, can open him gradually to a new idea.
  • Visualize what you want from the meeting. I tend to chicken out in situations like this. I get all ready, and then I freeze up and don't ask for anything. So yesterday, I took a few minutes and talked through my points in my head. I saw myself looking confident and sure, ready for his response. I visualized him responding positively and negatively, and me not losing my cool or getting intimidated, but proceeding down my list calmly and professionally. Though the actual meeting was very different, I went in ready to say what I wanted to say.
  • Don't be afraid of wanting something unusual. Will a tea kettle in your cube cause you to make fewer trips to the water cooler and get less distracted? Ask for it. Would it be easier to work if the people counting change next door did it somewhere else, as the noise interferes with your creative processes? See if it's possible for them to move (extra credit if you find another place where they could work!). You usually know what will make a good work environment for you, and it doesn't hurt to ask.
  • Know when to stop. I had a lot more to say than I got to say, and I was ready to say it. But the conversation went somewhere else and that ended up being very, very good for me. When we'd gone an hour over and my boss mentioned how hungry he was, I knew that it wasn't the time to ask for anything else. I didn't get everything I wanted and I didn't even get to say it all, but I feel like the meeting was a success. Why? Because we had constructive conversation that made both of us excited about the future. What more could I ask?

These tips won't work for everyone. Some jobs just suck, and that's the truth. But if you're not sure, or you just want to try anyway, give it a go. Using these ideas will mean, at least, that your presentation is good, even if your boss's reaction isn't.

Photo by crouchingbadger.

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rachael

Thank you for this advice. It is the first article I have read that has given me some practical, good ideas for improving my work environment.