How To Get What You Want In Your Career By Nailing The Hard Asks

Nearly all of us at some point in our careers desperately want something from the boss, but we are hesitant about broaching the subject.

Maybe it’s a raise, a promotion, or extra vacation time. We apprehensively eye the corner office and wonder how to get up the nerve to walk in and make our demand.

Unfortunately, when we finally do muster our courage, too many of us go into those conversations without a sound strategy. We open up the discussion without having thought out specific amounts, specific dates, or other details related to what we want. As a result, we are more likely to come up short in achieving our desires.

To avoid falling into that trap, one thing I recommend is using a formula I refer to as 2S+1Q. When you first see that formula you may feel as if you are back in high school algebra class about to take a test you forgot to study for. But all 2S+1Q means is this: When you are making an ask that’s hard for you––and maybe hard for the person being asked––you should use two sentences and one question.

This keeps things nice, simple, and direct. Most asks are overasked and over explained, with so much discussion on the asker’s part that the other person is left confused about just what it is they are supposed to be thinking about.

You want to avoid that confusion and help out as much as possible the person who is making the decision. So what might 2S+1Q look and sound like in an actual situation? Here are examples of how to put it to work in a number circumstances you are likely to encounter over the course of a career:

Asking for a raise.

“Thank you for trusting me to be the head of our new product development team. I’m asking you now for a $15,000 raise effective Jan. 1 of next year. How can I help you reach this important decision?” (Note the specific amount and specific date.)

Asking to work from home full time.

“As you know, for the past two years our team has worked from home, and we have not missed a deadline. I feel that we are so much more productive, so much more creative, and so much happier when we work from home. Will you consider letting us all work from home through the end of next year?”

retention rates

Asking to be promoted.

“I’d like to talk to you about promoting me by the end of this month to an assistant vice president. I have brought with me a written plan on how I can fulfill the current job requirements as well as some suggested ways I can bring some new skills to this position. Can I go over the details with you?”

Asking for more training for your staff.

“Our 10 new hires could add extra skill sets for the company if they could receive outside training. I found a two-day conference that our new hires could go to on May1 that would cost $5,000 for the 10 of us. Can I have your permission for them to go?”

Asking for realistic timelines to achieve goals.

“Right now I am tasked to visit with 15 prospects or donors a month. Over the past eight months, I’ve made 50 calls a month and backed them up with emails, and I have been able to visit with 10 prospects or donors. Can we agree that we need to readjust my goal to do 10 visits per month so that I will be eligible for my bonus in December?”

Asking for more vacation time.

“I’ve been with the company now for over four years and have always looked forward to my two-week vacation. This summer my family and I are planning a long trip to Europe, as our daughter will be doing an internship in Barcelona. Can I have one additional week of vacation in addition to my two weeks this summer?”

As you can see from each of these examples, the ask should be a conversation, not a confrontation. Also, by ending with a question, you are not only inviting the person to respond while you listen, but you are also inviting more discussion. It’s unlikely you will get your desired yes right then and there, but your real goal here is to have an open conversation about what it is you want.

Likely, the other person will have comments or questions about what you have said. You can prepare for this by writing down 15 things you think they potentially could say so you will be prepared to respond.

to done list

Take note of how you’re treated

Here is something else I would add: When you make these sorts of asks, watch carefully how you are treated. It’s my experience that how someone treats the process is how they will treat you in the future. 

If you feel you were treated unfairly or unkindly during the ask, or that you never received a full explanation for the decision, or were given a reason that seemed dubious, your work life is not going to get much better after that. Those decision makers do not miraculously change their demeanors, indecisiveness, tones, or words once a decision is made, even if it is made in your favor. 

The good news, though, is that by using the 2S+1Q formula, and by treating the moment as a conversation rather than a confrontation, you will increase the odds that you will walk away with what you want.

And the next time you face a hard ask––whether with this boss or the next one––you will be able to approach it with less anxiety, more confidence, and an overall positive attitude.

This guest post was authored by Laura Fredricks, JD

Laura Fredricks ( is an author, speaker, and consultant who trains and coaches individuals, businesses, and nonprofits. Her latest book is Hard Asks Made Easy: How to Get Exactly What You Want. Through her previous six books, Fredricks has helped hundreds of global executives, industry trailblazers, marketing and communication leaders, boards, fundraisers, entrepreneurs, teenagers, artists, philanthropists, and everyday people achieve their best professional and personal lives possible. Since 20025 Fredricks has been teaching The Art of the Ask: Effective  Communications and Negotiation Strategies at New York University School of Professional Studies.


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Ms. Career Girl was started in 2008 to help ambitious young professional women figure out who they are, what they want and how to get it.