The power of speaking up

Last month, my boyfriend and I took a weekend trip to Seattle to celebrate our anniversary. We got a great deal on a hotel using a discount app. We'd stayed at this hotel before, and the view was gorgeous. The price was also reasonable and the room was clean. We checked in, unloaded our bags and pulled back the curtains, preparing to take in Seattle's beautiful skyline, which we'd flown a thousand miles to see.

Lo and behold, the parking lot. A man getting into his car looked up at us, startled.

“Eh,” I said. “We didn't come here to hang out at the hotel.”

“Yeah, but I want a view,” Brian said, drawing the curtains. “The parking lot? C'mon.”

He vowed to talk to someone at the front desk and see how much it would cost to get a better room. We were surprised when the hotel receptionist said it would be no problem to upgrade us free of charge. There was no hesitation. It was the easiest upgrade I've ever gotten. We went up to our new room, opened the curtains and took in a nice nighttime view of the Space Needle.

This experience reminded me of just how effective speaking up can be. I've always struggled with speaking up for myself. But the more I see how speaking up can get you discounts, upgrades, necessary help, jobs, etc., the more I'm trying to master it.

Why speaking up was hard for me

Embarrassment

I grew up learning to be very independent and self-sufficient, and it took me a while to understand the cliché: the squeaky wheel gets the grease.

That cliche began to make the most sense when I entered the working world. My outspoken co-workers would get the projects I wanted just because they made sure it was known that they wanted those projects. Luckily, my boss was nurturing. She recognized my meekness and encouraged me to speak up when I wanted something. I realized I was embarrassed to ask for things. I felt like if I had the guts to ask for a project, it meant I was full of myself, and that was embarrassing to me. (Weird, I know. I guess I had an odd cultural upbringing.) When I had to ask for help in school, I always felt it meant I wasn't smart and couldn't handle things on my own. As an adult, that embarrassment turned into feeling like I was just being a nuisance.

Lack of confidence

It took me a while to ask for a raise or promotion on my own. I felt like, if I deserved something, it would just come to me. Silly, right? Another example: When I was a financial mess, I got into problems with overdraft fees. It was totally my fault, but the bank definitely preyed on my financial irresponsibility, charging me $35 per transaction, and sneakily posting withdrawals before deposits that were made early that same day. A friend told me I could call and have the fees removed, but I resigned myself to the belief that I deserved to pay them because, y'know, bank fees are all about personal conviction and morals and stuff.

Laziness

It hurts to confess this, but when I was a financial mess, I also stupidly fell for a free credit score scam. The company charged my card an unauthorized $14.99 fee. After researching the scam online, I knew if I called my credit card company and told them the issue, the fee would most likely be removed. But at the time, I told myself, “Eh, it's just 15 bucks.” Then I asked my lazy self, “If someone paid you $15 to have a five-minute phone call right now, would you do it?” I answered yes, and I picked up the phone.

Speaking up in action

It's still hard sometimes, but I've learned to speak up for myself a lot more these days. And it's been really effective in saving me money, or even helping me to earn more money. The other day, I randomly called my cell phone provider about lowering my bill. I saw a better, cheaper plan online. The only catch — there was some crazy $150 fee for activating this plan. It would take seven months before I would even start seeing savings. So I called and half-jokingly asked, “I don't have to pay that, right?”

The customer service rep said, “Sure, we can waive that.”

Well, that was easy! By just asking, I was able to lower my phone bill by $15 a month.

“Just asking” is one of the simplest but most effective money hacks I've come across. And the more I see how effective it can be, the less shy I become about speaking up. But, of course, there are a few things to keep in mind for better results:

Be nice

Pretty simple. I think people are more apt to offer help when someone is kind. Sure, customers who raise hell might get what they want, and being too nice can certainly work against you. But I've been nasty to customer service reps, and then I've been patient and kind to them. I've learned that, most of the time, nice usually trumps nasty. Since making it a point to be nicer and more understanding, I've found that my customer service calls are quicker and more effective.

Get personal

I've found that it usually helps, when asking for something, to remind people that you're human. When arguing for a raise, I reminded my boss that my financial situation was suffering due to inflation — rent increases and the like. When calling my Internet company about their price hikes, I reminded them that I don't have the money to pay for such a huge increase. “Times are tough,” I told the rep.

She sighed, “Yeah, I understand.”

It took some work, but I was able to get an even better deal on my Internet because of some special promo or whatever they had going on.

Be persistent

Sometimes, however, it ain't easy. While I wouldn't be annoyingly persistent in asking for something like a free room upgrade, I was annoyingly persistent with those aforementioned bank fees (especially when they once were at $300). When I finally decided to call, I asked to talk to a manager, and it took nearly an hour of my time and a lot of headache in arguing my case for waiving the fees, but in the end, “just asking” won.

Of course, there's a difference between asking for something appropriate and then asking for a handout. And this is kind of what I struggle with. Blatantly asking for a free flight upgrade, for example, seems so embarrassing, yet I still want to try it, because others have said it works. And then I've met people who aren't afraid to “just ask” for damn near everything, to the point that their irreverence borders on cheapskate. When I'm asking for help or for a discount or something, I try to imagine how the other party feels when I'm speaking up — will they feel put out or taken advantage of? If so, then I think twice about asking.

But I'm not quite sure where to draw that line, so what do you think? Speaking up works, but where's the boundary between being outspoken and just being cheap?

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Money Saving
Money Saving
6 years ago

I think speaking up goes hand-in-hand with negotiating. Try reading: Secrets of Power Negotiating by Roger Dawson.

Once you can get beyond the fear of embarrassment, you’ll be able to save yourself literally thousands of dollars over a lifetime and get awesome and free cool stuff like your hotel room upgrade 🙂

It never hurts to ask, the worst people can say is no.

Nicole
Nicole
6 years ago
Reply to  Money Saving

I would also recomend reading “Women Don’t Ask: The High Cost of Avoiding Negotiation– and Positive Strategies for Change” by Linda Babcock and Sara Laschever. While the book is largely focused on empowering women, it does recomend strategies that could be beneficial for both genders.

Jason
Jason
6 years ago
Reply to  Money Saving

Another good one from the 90s is titled “In Business As In Life — You Don’t Get What You Deserve — You Get What You Negotiate” by Chester Karrass. It’s written primarily for sales professionals, but the lessons definitely apply to all of us in working with people and seeking mutually beneficial outcomes.

Beth
Beth
6 years ago

I totally agree about being nice! I’ve worked in a few customer service jobs, and always been happy to help (or try to help) people who were nice or who could remain calm when a problem occurred. People mistakenly think that bullying and threats work, but those tactics don’t make anyone want to go the extra mile for you and they don’t make for good customer/business relationships. One of the reasons I didn’t speak up for myself was because I didn’t want to seem like the many jerks I’d had to deal with. I’ve found that starting the conversation with… Read more »

El Nerdo
El Nerdo
6 years ago
Reply to  Beth

I don’t know if I’m helping to spread some evil sorcery or jedi mind tricks here, but once I asked a guy who’d get the seemingly impossible out of people what was the secret to his Moses-like parting of bureaucratic waters.

He said he prefaces every request with “I need your help”.

csdx
csdx
6 years ago
Reply to  El Nerdo

Help me Customer Service Rep, you’re my only hope!

Diya
Diya
6 years ago
Reply to  El Nerdo

Thanks for sharing this tip and I believe it does not hurt at all starting the conversation with “I need your help”.

From my experience I did use these magical words to start the conversation to get something done and it never disappointed me.

Beth
Beth
6 years ago
Reply to  El Nerdo

lol! That’s another good one.

I think when people use this approach, they’re empowering the other person to help them. When they bully someone, they’re making the other person feel powerless, demeaned and angry.

I think everyone should come away from the situation feeling good.

The Warrior
The Warrior
6 years ago

This is probably the skill I need to implement more.

I am hesitant and “scared” to ask for more. I don’t know why but I get very apprehensive. When I have just asked in the past it has usually worked out for the better.

This is definitely a skill I will push my son to try and learn.

The Warrior
NetWorthWarrior.com

John S @ Frugal Rules
John S @ Frugal Rules
6 years ago

The being nice tip is a huge one. I’ve worked in customer facing jobs in the past and I was much more likely to give something to someone if they were being nice as opposed to being a jerk. Of course the jerk would get what they wanted at times, but not always. If the person was nice then I would go out of my way to take care of what they wanted. I know not all customer facing people are like that, but I think many are.

Brian@ Debt Discipline
[email protected] Debt Discipline
6 years ago

What’s the worst that you can hear is a “No” so it doesn’t hurt to ask, be polite and professional and I think you’ll be surprised at the results. I often remind my co-workers and staff that to provide feedback to help improve things around the office. If you have an issues tell someone at your same level will not get it address you need to raise the concern to someone that has the power to make a change.

Paige @ The Dollar Stretcher
Paige @ The Dollar Stretcher
6 years ago

Great tips! It’s definitely an eye-opener to see how much money you could save just by asking 🙂

Babs
Babs
6 years ago

Good post Kristin! These are excellent tips. My very first tax return after I was married was incorrect due to unreported income. (unknown to me because I had only been married a week before the end of the year,duh) We were assessed interest & penalties. I wrote the IRS explaining the reason for the error and they waived the penalties. It doesn’t hurt to ask.
Niceness counts!

Kristin Wong
Kristin Wong
6 years ago
Reply to  Babs

The IRS waived your penalties? Babs you are my hero.

M
M
6 years ago

We all suffer from pride at some point in our lives. But we also overestimate what others think of us.
On occasion, I get impatient with my millennial-aged students, but they do a much better job of asking for what they need than I did at that age. Speaking up is great, but the grace is in the delivery 😉

Zeo Unic
Zeo Unic
6 years ago

Fantastic article… I believe many people face this problem of speaking up. This tips would be very helpful for such people and there is a lot to learn from here.

Tina
Tina
6 years ago

A few years ago we went to a retailer which had a item my mom wanted to get Dad for Christmas. The sale was great but there were none on the shelf. The sales clerk stated they have some but aren’t allowed to get any more out today so we would have to come back tomorrow. So I asked for a manager which my mom would never do. I explained to the manager that my mother just had cancer removal surgery on her foot(I drove her there to get this item) and it would be difficult for my mother to… Read more »

PB
PB
6 years ago

I think that one of the things that holds people back from asking is being told NO too often when they were young. When you did not receive the help you needed as a child, it sometimes does not even occur to you to ask for it as an adult.

If you’re shy about asking for help, ask yourself why and enjoy some time with your childhood traumas. And then remind yourself that you can create your own life now.

Anne
Anne
6 years ago

Great post, and I certainly believe some of us have a politeness handicap.

My only issue is making it personal when you ask for a raise. I always counsel against that. EVERYONE suffers from inflation, rent raises, etc. Your reason for asking for more money should be because of your skills, commitment, hard work, or because you have been undervalued compared to market levels.

I wouldn’t give a raise based on a tale of woe. But for all the other situations, a tale of woe can be quite effective.

Kristin Wong
Kristin Wong
6 years ago
Reply to  Anne

Thanks, Anne! And touche about the raise advice. You’re right–I definitely didn’t mean to make it sound like you should invite your boss to a pity party. As I was writing that, I was remembering a scenario in which my boss gave me her own tale of woe when negotiating my salary. In that scenario, it worked to remind my boss about inflation. But I agree–your raise should be about business and what you contribute to the company.

Debra
Debra
6 years ago

Thanks for posting this, I hadn’t realized you could just ask to be moved. We once stayed in Boston and were over a noisy daycare that opened early.

nicoleandmaggie
nicoleandmaggie
6 years ago

Just asking is awesome. Every couple of years we call around and ask if there are any discounts on stuff like our insurance, cell phone, internet, etc. Usually there are!

http://nicoleandmaggie.wordpress.com/2011/02/14/just-ask/

Kyla
Kyla
6 years ago

I couldn’t agree with you more, Kristin! I’ve also been one to shy away from speaking up due to lack of confidence and sometimes embarrassment. Lately though, I’ve started asking myself “what’s the worst that could happen?” Usually, the answer to that question is a polite “no” and I move on with my day. About a year ago, I decided to call our internet provider after seeing a discount advertised on their website for new customers. My boyfriend and I had been customers for a while but I figured it couldn’t hurt to ask if we might be able to… Read more »

Kristin Wong
Kristin Wong
6 years ago
Reply to  Kyla

“Also, I definitely agree that patience and kindness go a lot further…” And flattery! If I have an issue, I usually let the company know I like using them before telling them how disappointed I am. This happened to me yesterday. I booked a hotel using an app I’ve been using for years. After I paid, they dropped the hotel price by about $50. Customer service was unhelpful, so I emailed the company, told them how much I’ve enjoyed their app, but added that I probably won’t use it anymore because of the lack of price guarantee. I was kind,… Read more »

Arson
Arson
6 years ago

true story. my car is in the shop right now, and when i was at the rental car company i jokingly stated that, “i would happily accept all free upgrades”. they upgraded me to a better car just for speaking up.

Liz
Liz
6 years ago

Great article! I struggle with asking for deals/discounts/upgrades too, but I think I’m warming up to it. It helps to watch my husband, who is usually too quick to speak up, his favorite question being “Is it free?” It embarrasses me because I feel like it’s obvious when things are free (or, as I prefer, “included” or “complimentary”) and when they’re not, but a few times a year this blunt question gets us a perk we would have missed otherwise. There’s a sweet spot of savviness somewhere between my reticence and his bluntness…we’ll have to keep practicing it.

Chris - Part Time Vagabond
Chris - Part Time Vagabond
6 years ago

My father always said to me, “The worst they can say is ‘no.'” And that rings true.

You offer up some good points, although I disagree with the getting personal one. Everyone’s going through tough times(that’s why you’re asking for something!), so bringing up personal hardships could backfire on you (I speak from experience). Playing the sympathy card is a worn out tactic.

Micro
Micro
6 years ago

I know how you feel when it comes to speaking up. I have always lived by just keeping quiet and working hard. Usually, recoginition did come but I know that might not always be the case. I’m not sure how I will approach a situation when I do have to speak up. I know for things like a raise I will feel guilty and greedy, especially given todays environment.

Mrs. PoP
Mrs. PoP
6 years ago

Asking never hurts – even if the mistake was your fault to begin with. Just be humble and ask if there’s anything they can do to help fix it. This week I did just that and asked for “a credit” expecting a small partial credit. Instead, I got the whole bill credited. Sweet! Especially considering it was my mistake they were making up for…

Marie
Marie
6 years ago

In my experience, what helps is to make clear that you’ve read the company’s policies and still can’t find a solution that applies to your situation. When I worked in a customer service capacity, I felt no sympathy for people who ignored the rules because they though they were special snowflakes. Acknowledge that you’ve tried to figure things out in an “everyman” fashion and can’t do it alone, and you nip that attitude in the bud.

Jon@2-copper-coins.com
6 years ago

I can still remember the first time I sent back a plate of food at a restaurant. It was at a really nice place and they had over cooked my steak. I agonized over that decision but speaking up turned what could have been an awful evening into a great experience. They even kicked in a free cocktail for me, so it was well worth speaking up.

Barbie
Barbie
6 years ago

My hubby thinks that I have special powers because people always want to help me and I get prices adjusted or “problems” fixed without a fuss. My secret? I am nice to everyone, even someone who is clearly in a bad mood or having the day from hell. I actually look at the person and listen closely to them and acknowledge their experience too. It doesn’t take much time to note how challenging it must be to handle complaints all day, or to compliment someone who went above and beyond with a customer before me. Just last week I called… Read more »

smirktastic
smirktastic
6 years ago
Reply to  Barbie

Well said! If more of us adopted that kind of attitude, think of what a kinder, friendlier world this could be.

Janel
Janel
6 years ago

This article really hit home to me. I am a reserved, almost passive person and I never speak up. This has truly affected my ability to be effective in life. I’ve noticed that people who speak their minds always get what they want, even when it is nasty and unprofessional. I think what really resonated with me is that you can speak up but also be nice. I’ve conquered the nice part, I just need to work on speaking up. Thank you so much for this article, it truly helped me.

Kristin
Kristin
6 years ago

I read this article yesterday morning and when a package was late coming in the mail yesterday my boyfriend suggested that I speak up and write some feedback. So I did. I was kind, but assertive (you can read this article for a good outline of what to say when speaking up: https://www.getrichslowly.org/bad-customer-service-talk-to-the-ceo/ ). This morning I received an email and they added $5 to my account. Speaking up really does work, companies want to keep their customers and as long as they know you are a valued, loyal customer they will treat you as one.

Ramesh
Ramesh
6 years ago

Wow what an article.. I feel the same all the time. If only I was a better writer I feel I would have written same words.. thank you Kristen for reminding me I’m not alone although I knew it but reading gave me some confidence I’m sorting out my life and will try to speak up more for myself.

thank you again please keep on writing !

mercy
mercy
6 years ago

Kristin, thanks for sharing. I did not learn that lesson until I went to grad school and as an intern….I saw how bad things can get because like you…culturally…I had learned that speaking up is interpreted as intrusive..now I know better, its difficult to ADVOCATE for myself..yet I am fierce at advocating for my clients, go figure…

fayyaz
fayyaz
6 years ago

thanks Kristin. your article helped me a lot.
i have problem in speaking up for myself.but now i will try to speak up

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