Asking for what you want can be difficult. It means being vulnerable, so it’s not entirely surprising that so many of us dislike doing it. Yet being vocal about what you want can offer huge benefits for professional success.
We speak with Sonia Boddie-Thompson, Head of the Bilateral, Scholarships and Training Division of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Aviation in St. Christopher (St. Kitts) and Nevis, to find out why your voice is your most powerful asset.
From the moment I learnt to read, I loved poetry. I love reading poetry, writing poetry, and reciting poetry! When I was a child, I attended a church where poetry recitals were a regular occurrence. I was extremely enthusiastic about being involved but despite feeling capable, I was never asked to take part.
I spoke to my grandmother and she advised the organiser that it would be a great idea to get me involved. As a result of speaking up, I was able to showcase my talent, and am pleased to say that I am still asked to read and write poems to this day.
Now that I’m an adult, I know the responsibility to ask for what I want, and to go out and get it, lies with me.
If I’m ever unsure about whether I’m deserving of something, I think back to that childhood memory of my wonderful grandmother advocating for me and put away any thoughts of timidity.
It was this experience that propelled me as an eighteen-year-old seeking a summer job to hide my nerves, and to approach the Minister of Education and Foreign Affairs after an event at my college. Moments later, to my complete surprise, I was introduced to an Ambassador by the Minister and was offered a summer job at their Embassy.
It was during this short bout of employment that I became exposed to, and completely enthralled by, the world of International Relations and Diplomacy. Today, some eighteen years later, I am a multilingual Senior Foreign Service Officer and Head of the Bilateral, Scholarship and Training Division in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Aviation in St. Christopher (St. Kitts) and Nevis.
I attribute much of my success to that moment where I saw an opportunity and simply asked for what I wanted.
Of course, sometimes, we ask for things and don’t get the answer we’re looking for. This can be a difficult pill to swallow.
Despite working extremely hard to complete a six month intensive Spanish Language training course, a Bachelor’s degree programme in International Relations, and graduating top of my University with an Honorific Mention in Mexico, my application for a job at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs upon returning to my home country, was sadly unsuccessful.
But it’s important to remember that ‘no’ does not mean ‘never’.
I sought out other opportunities to develop my skills and experience. This included taking a job at the Inland Revenue Department, working tirelessly to enhance the image of the organization and advising taxpayers of their rights, responsibilities and obligations. I also completed short training courses in Leadership, International Law, Protocol, and other topics relevant to my career. I applied for a Chevening Scholarship and completed a master’s in public administration, and successfully applied to serve as the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Youth Ambassador for my country.
Five and a half years later, when I was offered an interview for a job at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, I had a wealth of training and experience to showcase, as well as the respect of the people I had met during my career thus far who could advocate for me.
I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the number of times simply asking for what I want has benefitted my career. You might be too. If it doesn’t pay off at the time, request feedback and continue investing in yourself. That way, you’ll be in a much better position for the next ask at another place and time. So go ahead and try it, just speak up and ask.