Getting what you want is often exceedingly difficult. Everyone knows what it’s like to want something: a promotion at work, a date with your crush, an extension on That Impossible Problem Set, an expedited premiere date for Season 6 of Game of Thrones. But when it comes to actually asking for the things we desire, most of us hit a wall. We tend to succumb to stress, nerves, anxiety, or some terrifying combination of all three, in fear of being labeled as overly pushy or too demanding.
Asking for what you want is a crucial part of life, and the more you practice, the easier it becomes.
How to ask for what you want — and get it
According to Dan Johnston, the 25-year-old co-founder of online tutoring company InstaEDU, the most important element in successfully getting what you want is how you frame the question.
“Typically, you think your boss is the one who holds the keys to your next promotion or raise,” says Dan. Yet, when it comes to successfully asking for either of these things, Dan firmly believes adapting such a mentality is nothing short of fatal. Going into a meeting with the notion that your boss wields ultimate control is the equivalent of handing over all of the power before the conversation even starts.
Any strategy that involves “hoping” for a yes or positive response is doomed from the outset: in being reactionary, you’ve already lost. “If you want a raise, don’t ask for a raise,” Dan says, “Instead, ask your boss what steps you need to take in order to earn a raise. Same rule applies for anything else you want in life. If the person in power tells you what you can do in order to earn what you desire, then you’ve taken control of your own destiny.”
This methodology forces an honest conversation which lays out a straightforward path to the outcome you’re looking for. “When you frame success that way to the person who holds your fate, and they tell you what you can do, then you have created a situation in which your success is in your hands,” says Dan, “I think it’s the most powerful way to get what you want.”
This methodology isn’t limited to promotions. “It could just as easily be a round of funding for your company. It might be better not to ask for funding, but instead to ask an investor, ‘What does the company need to do in order to earn your funding?’”
Dan did not become an advocate for this technique without empirical precedent: he used it to successfully get funding for his startup before selling the company to Chegg for $30 million a year ago. Earlier this year, Dan was featured on the Forbes’ 30 Under 30 list.
“This is the one thing I would tell young people of all walks of life,” says Dan. “If you want something, ask how to get it, and act accordingly. Most people just sort of want things, but they’re not willing to invest in what it takes to get them.”
Dan now works at Chegg, where he oversees product development for Chegg Study and Chegg Tutors.
The three qualities that all great employees have in common
To build anything meaningful, you have to step back and let the best people shine. “As a founder, you’re only so scalable,” says Dan. “In hindsight it’s all about the people you hire, and very quickly you become more of a coach than a player, to the point where your impact is really by association.”
In Dan’s experience, there are three key qualities that almost all great employees possess:
1.) Legitimately care about succeeding
“You can tell who these are very quickly,” says Dan, “They’re genuinely upset by failures, because they care so much.”
“There are a lot of workers in [Silicon Valley] who are just there for the paycheck. They might be good at what they do, but they don’t actually care if their project or assignment isn’t successful,” says Dan.
When you are deeply invested in the project, it naturally makes people want to help you. “If I get invested in someone’s project, I want them to be just as happy as I am if it succeeds, or just as pissed if it doesn’t,” says Dan, “I like people who invest in their work. Emotionally, not just time wise.”
2.) Be extremely good at one thing
It’s good to be the jack of all trades, but if you want people to take you seriously, it’s imperative to be an expert in just one thing. According to Dan, the best employees are intelligent. “Not in the did-well-in-school sense or IQ sense. But intelligent in their role,” says Dan. This can refer to a genius marketer who writes shiny copies, or a support staff member who is adept at resolving customer conflicts. “Whatever it may be, there are certain types of intelligence that can astound you for a particular skill set,” says Dan, “It’s incredibly motivating to work with those people.”
3.) Don’t push people out of the way to get ahead
“One of my pet peeves is people who are motivated by their own gains to an extent where it shows,” says Dan. While it’s natural for everyone to want personal success, truly selfish behaviors are more conspicuous than most people realize. “You can notice when people care about looking good more so than doing well — in the sense that they present a good picture to their bosses or peers. It may sound nuanced, but when you see it, you know it.”
How to not be reactionary when bad things happen
The road to success is bumpy, and you better be prepared for the ups and the downs. When you’re in the middle of a setback — you didn’t get a promotion, your project was a huge failure, your boss is losing confidence in you — it can quickly spiral out of control and sap your ego. In this stage, the only thing you should care about is what’s next. “All that matters is figuring exactly what you need to do right now,” says Dan.
“This is going to sound horribly cliché, but my high school football coach used to always tell us whether it’s going well or poor, only think about what’s important now,” said Dan, “The idea is that if you just dropped a pass, or missed a tackle, if you’re upset about what happened, it doesn’t really matter.”
While growing his company, Dan dropped a few passes. “Our things were breaking all the time. It was hard to raise money. It was hard to hire. We launched a ton of failed features.”
During these times, it’s important to catch when you’re becoming too emotionally reactive.
“People will tell you I tend to wear my emotions on my sleeve,” says Dan, “I’ve gotten a lot better about it, but in the early days it was bad. I was too reactive to things rather than being logical.”
Often times, people are so caught up in the negative stimuli that they overplay it in their heads, which consequently hampers their ability to think about what comes next. It takes a strong character to overcome that.
“The past doesn’t matter, and the future doesn’t matter yet,” says Dan, “Just optimize for the moment.”
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