How and When To Ask Your Boss for Something: 14 Tips

Updated February 3, 2023

Workplace communication often involves individuals from various levels of an organization. Colleagues communicate with one another, supervisors provide instruction and guidance and, sometimes, team members want or need to make requests of a supervisor. Knowing how to ask your supervisor for something can be a beneficial skill that might help you achieve your career goals.

In this article, we discuss times when you might request something from a supervisor and provide tips for how to do so.

Related: 32 Questions To Ask Your Boss

Why should you consider how to ask your boss for something?

Knowing how to ask your boss for something can be an important skill for making progress in your career. Doing so effectively can help you succeed in your current role, and it can also help you leave a good impression when it comes time to find a new position if you choose. Many supervisors value communication skills, so knowing how to request something from them can also showcase your strong interpersonal skills.

Related: 10 Communication Skills for Career Success

Tips for making a request of a supervisor

If you want or need to request something from your supervisor, here are some tips that might help:

1. Identify your goals

Having a clear sense of your goals before conversing with your supervisor can help you present your request coherently. Consider brainstorming your goals and writing down notes. You might also choose to discuss your approach with a trusted mentor if it makes sense in your situation.

2. Be flexible

Try to remain flexible when you ask your supervisor for something. If multiple solutions might work, for example, considering one of these alternatives might help you while also meeting your company's needs. A willingness to consider new ideas might also help foster a more mutually beneficial dialogue.

3. Remember your company's mission

Framing your request as a benefit to your company might make your request more persuasive. Try reviewing your business's mission statement and thinking about specific ways your request could help meet those goals. Consider using language that mirrors the words and phrases in your company's mission statement.

4. Practice active listening

Active listening can be a valuable way to connect with your audience when making a request. This means hearing the other person's ideas and being sure to understand them before contributing your own thoughts fully. Verbal affirmations and non-verbal indicators such as nodding and leaning toward the speaker can help them feel heard and possibly make them more likely to agree to your request.

Related: Active Listening Skills: Definition and Examples

5. Be mindful of body language

If you are making your request in person, body language can help you make a persuasive impression on your supervisor. Using good posture can help project confidence, for example. A wide stance and uncrossed arms can also communicate a sense of openness and goodwill, which might also be helpful in your request.

6. Ask questions

There is a possibility your supervisor's first response to your request might be a version of "not yet." Ask clarifying questions to determine how to make progress toward fulfilling your request. Try asking questions about alternatives or solutions close to what you hoped to achieve.

7. Know your audience

Different supervisors may respond well to other kinds of persuasive strategies. Be sure to consider your own supervisor's communication style and preferences when making your request. For example, if your supervisor prefers formal dialogue, you may wish to set up a meeting with them and bring an outline of your main points. If your supervisor prefers casual conversation, you might choose to start an impromptu discussion instead. Being attentive to your audience's preferences can be a powerful way to show consideration, which might make them more likely to grant your request.

8. Name your concerns

It is normal to have worries or even fears when you want or need to ask your supervisor for something. Naming your problems can help you feel more empowered and take steps to feel more confident. For example, you might worry that your supervisor will dismiss your request. Naming this concern as, perhaps, fear of rejection can help you turn that fear into an opportunity. In this case, you might ask yourself what will happen if your supervisor declines your request and the next steps you will take.

9. Leverage reciprocity

People commonly feel an urge to return favors and display kindness toward those who are kind to them first. This tendency is called reciprocity. You can use reciprocity to your advantage by explaining your successes and how you have benefited the company before making your request.

Related: Persuasion Skills: Definition and Examples

10. Consider the anchoring effect

People commonly remember the first piece of information they hear more readily than the following information. This phenomenon is sometimes called the "anchoring effect" because retention is "anchored" to that first detail. You can use this psychological trend to your advantage by first mentioning your most convincing evidence or most important request. For example, you might begin salary negotiations with the highest salary you are comfortable requesting or by describing a recent workplace success.

11. Use rhetorical strategies

Persuasive speaking and writing are also known as rhetoric. Three common ways of leveraging rhetoric are emotional appeals, logical appeals and appeals to credibility. Here are some ways you might use these strategies when asking your supervisor for something:

12. Appeal to emotion

Depending on your supervisor's personality, using emotion might help you make a case for your request. For example, if your supervisor prefers somewhat informal communication, using tasteful humor could help put them in a good mood, which might positively impact your request.

13. Appeal to logic

In a business setting, appeals to logic are often successful as well. Consider using data and statistics to explain why your request will benefit the company and yourself.

14. Appeal to credibility

Establishing yourself as a trustworthy, credible individual can also help when you want to request something from your supervisor. Consider discreetly referring to your credentials or qualifications when making your request. Speaking articulately can also help establish your credibility and might boost your chances of success.

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