Asking for What You Need

When you experience frustration as an executive assistant it can be difficult to pinpoint the exact cause of your frustration. We think we know the answer though. We blame a client who doesn’t respond to our emails as fast as we’d like. We blame the agent on our team whose contracts are full of errors we have to fix. We blame the vendor who didn’t send us a copy of the invoice.

And here’s where you might get frustrated at me for stating the following: The cause of your frustration lies within you. You can’t blame other people for how you feel. No one can make you feel anything.

As soon as you take responsibility for your own frustration, you take back control. When you have control over your emotions, you get to choose how you feel.

Now, let’s take it a step further. The actual reason you’re feeling frustrated is because you have a need that isn’t being met. For the client, you need prompt responses to your emails. For the agent, you need contracts completed without errors. For the vendor, you need the invoice as proof of repairs for the file. But did you really communicate those needs?

Let’s take it a step further with the example of the client. How can you expect a client to meet your needs if you never had that conversation with the client and requested prompt responses to your emails? Without that conversation, you can see how you set yourself up for frustration, right? Just because most clients respond promptly to your emails doesn’t mean all clients will. And now that you realize the problem started with you in the first place, you can fix the problem.

In this case, a phone call to the client could sound like this:

Me: Hi Mary! This is Elizabeth from Ron Henderson & Associates. Do have a moment to chat about your home purchase?

Client: Yes, go ahead.

Me: Great! I’ve sent you three emails in the last twenty-four hours, and I noticed that you haven’t responded to any of them. In order to keep everything moving forward on time with your home purchase, it’s important that I have all the information I need from you. Would you be willing to check your email at least three times a day and respond to each one as soon as you open it?

Client: I don’t think I can I do that. I’m not able to check my personal email at work.

Me: Okay, no problem. How about if I call you when I need to know something right away and you can call me back when you get a break at work, and then for emails, would you be willing to respond to those when you get home from work?

Client: Yeah, that would really work better for me. I can do that.

Me: Sounds like we have a plan. Thanks so much for helping me out with that, Mary. I know you’re excited about buying this home, and I want to make sure we do everything we can so we can close on May 30th as expected. Does that sound good?

Client: Yes Elizabeth, thanks so much for your help!

Me: My pleasure, Mary! Have a great day!

This conversation breaks down into two parts:

  1. State what you want and explain why it meets your need.
  2. Ask if the other person would be willing to do what you need done.

Let’s apply the formula to the agent on your team who makes contract errors.

“In order to provide your client with amazing service, I need the contracts to be as clean as possible. Would you be willing to sit down with me for an hour so I can show you how to write really clean contracts that make it easy for me process?”

Now let’s apply the formula to the vendor.

“You’re really going to like working for the Johnsons. They are really nice people! And because they’re really stressed over this move, would you be willing to take a photo of their paid invoice and text it to me before handing it to them? I know that would really mean a lot to them.”

I really love that phrase “would you be willing to…” because it gives the person freedom. It’s a request, not a demand. No one likes being told what do. So when you make a request and they’re not willing to meet the request, you can keep making requests until you find something they are willing to do that also meets your needs. That’s what we call a win-win!

So the next time you find yourself frustrated, ask yourself what you need in this situation. Then, see if the other person is willing to meet your need.

This also works with yourself. I hate to admit that I frustrate myself, but it does happen! I get frustrated with myself when I don’t follow my time blocks. I have good intentions, and there are days when I get derailed and blame myself for not doing what I wanted to do.

In this situation, what I need is more structure to my day. What I can ask myself is, would I be willing to spend ten minutes making a new list of priorities for the rest of the day and adjusting my time blocks to match the priorities? That’s an easy request of myself and one that I know will relieve my frustration too!

In this way, I stop demanding that I be perfect and start requesting some empathy from myself. My need for a structured day gets met and I feel much better about myself!

I hope you give this a try and learn to ask for what you need in a way that someone else (or even yourself) would be willing to meet your needs.

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