Go ahead and ask. You can be more assertive than you think.

Recently our daughter Annie and I were at the store picking out a card to for her to send to a friend. In the card display was a big section dedicated to Taylor Swift. We examined each card – Taylor Swift looking dreamy, sassy, alluring, or even defiant. Taylor can certainly strike a pose. I asked Annie to pick one.

“I can’t decide,” she said. Then, “Wait, what about that one!”

It was the display poster, the marquee advertising the Taylor Swift section of the greeting cards. “Well, that’s not for sale sweetie. It’s just the banner. You know, the poster for all the Taylor Swift cards.”

Annie says, “Yeah. Can we get it?”

There was also a little sign saying the Taylor Swift card collection was being replaced in a few days. I shrugged, “Let’s ask.” I took the poster from the wall and Annie carried it to the checkout counter.

“I can’t find a price on this,” the clerk said.

I replied, “Yeah, well, it’s..ah…the display poster. But the sign says you are getting rid of the cards in a couple days. Can we have it?” The clerk frowned. “I need to talk to the manager.”

We waited and the manager arrived, looked at the poster, and said. “I’m sorry but we don’t own those banners. The card company does. We can’t give them away.” I turned and saw Annie’s face wrinkle in confusion. “But why not?” she asked.

For a second no one moved. Then the manager said, “Tell you what. If you give us your phone number, we’ll ask the card company and call you if they say you can have it.” I was pretty skeptical, but Annie’s face lit up and she carefully wrote down our phone number for the manager as I said it out loud.

We drove home and I forgot all about it. But Annie didn’t forget. Sure enough about ten days later, the drug store manager called and asked if we still wanted the poster. Within the hour, that Taylor Swift poster was hanging in our daughter’s bedroom.

When in doubt, ask.

People seen by others as getting assertiveness right, often mistakenly think they’ve gotten it wrong.

In a study by doctoral students at Columbia Business School, 57% of those who believed that they were appropriately assertive in their requests and negotiations, were actually seen by the other party as under-assertive, and under-demanding. In other words, more than half didn’t ask for enough.

On the other hand, those who believe that have been overly-assertive and overly-demanding in their requests and negotiations often fall victim to a belief that they have “crossed a line” and gone too far in their requests. The result is that they backpedal, try to smooth things over, and acquiesce to a lesser deal. In the end, both parties often accept a worse deal.

That’s a bummer, because in the study often those who were assertive and demanding were actually interpreted by the other party as being fair and appropriate.

According to the research, you should go for it and ask for a little more. And not back off or feel badly about what you ask for.


Shawn Hunter is the Founder of Mindscaling and author of Out•Think: How Innovative Leaders Drive Exceptional Outcomes. It’s about how to lead joyfully in life, and also to lead cultures in your company to drive great results.

Twitter: @gshunter
Say hello: email@gshunter.com
Web: www.shawnhunter.com