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Negotiate and how to ask for what you want

If You Ask, You May Receive: Learning to be Proactive

If You Ask, You May Receive: Learning to be Proactive

There’s an old adage that goes: “If you ask, you will receive.” This is an oversimplified statement that will frequently prove to be false! Yet if we modify this basic idea, we end up with commonsense advice that we can all understand and get behind.

Learning to be proactive can be a lifelong task

Being proactive means one anticipates negative situations prior to them happening and prepares in advance for such occurrences by taking specific and explicit action(s). Being proactive might entail asking for accommodations well in advance of a test date. Another example of proactive behavior would be seeking out a teacher, tutor, or parent for extra help before one is urgently needed and the situation is desperate. I often get requests from older students and parents alike that reflect a reactive pattern of behavior, such as, “My child has been failing English all year” when it’s already February!  Such a (frequently occurring) situation brings to mind the saying, “Better late than never.” Which is true! But better to be early than to be late. In the case of a student who is seeking help perhaps months after he/she should have, they can still make progress and improve upon whatever they need to at that time. But it is always harder to play catch up than to get in front of the ball. (See my previous blog post Don’t Wait or Procrastinate – Motivate)

Here’s a Story for You…

While acting as an advocate on behalf of a high school student, I participated in a meeting with my student and her principal in order to receive testing accommodations retroactively due to my student’s months-long illness the prior semester. My student had been out sick for dozens of days and classes due to a debilitating and excused illness, yet she was not granted certain testing accommodations and as she is a hardworking, overachieving student, she did not think it necessary to ask at the time.  Well, she ended up being made to take the very same final as all other students, with no accommodations, and fared well below her average performance. The final grade she received thus ruined her otherwise stellar average and in retrospect, her being made to take the regular final with no additional instruction or accommodation seemed like a punitive measure by the school. So, we engaged in a summer-long chain of emails to teachers, department heads, assistant principals, and the principal in an effort to modify that grade and assignment, despite the fact that it was now completed. While we ended up successful (this student was finally granted additional instruction time AND a slightly altered version of the test to retake), going about the process retroactively was costly, time-consuming, and difficult. Had this student asked for accommodations (she would have had a compelling case for temporary accommodations under Section 504) proactively during the spring, before the final, she and her family would have saved time, energy, and money and received an outcome that was the same or better.  (On a side note, this particular student is very bright, put together, and an excellent self-advocate, so this lesson has been learned!)

Why is it so difficult to be proactive?

Why do we have such a hard time reaching out for help before the ship reaches the iceberg and why can’t we prevent ourselves from crashing into it, capsizing, and then having to do damage control much of the time? Well, we can avoid this fate. But being proactive requires us to be honest with ourselves and to face the reality of the situation that we are in.  Many of us fear the potential repercussions of a situation before it has even come to fruition and act on those fears as if they are reality. The “repercussions” may be a material consequence such as a lower grade or loss of a job or income, so we anticipate the loss of those things prior to them happening; by fearing and anticipating the worst, we create fertile ground for our inactivity which then leads to the realization of those fears. I, like most humans, have found myself NOT asking for something out of fear of what may happen. But what do we really have to lose by asking? When you don’t yet have something, you have nothing to lose by asking for it. But by not asking, we may lose the opportunity to achieve our goal altogether. And on a practical note, I have also found that many people respect it when someone speaks up and asks for something they want or need (within reason and done in a respectful manner, of course). I try to remember that the world is not set up for ME and my reality, needs, and success. But we can create our own success in the world by seeking out help or what seems like “extra”, when it may in fact be readily available, but will likely not be offered. Let the world work for you by getting to work yourself right now!

So, whether you are asking for a raise from your boss, an extension on a paper, an instructional accommodation, or a special order, go get it!

Simple Strategies for Proactivity

Figure out your specific goals

  •  Envision yourself achieving those goals
  • Do a task analysis: Break down each goal into small, achievable steps to make it more manageable

Know your Rights

  • When you understand your legal, consumer, and human rights in a given situation, you are:
    1. More able to effectively ask for support
    2. In a better position to get what you want out of that situation and in a more efficient manner

Plan Ahead

  • This includes anticipating and planning for less-than-ideal scenarios
    • This does not mean we expect or assume these things will happen, just that we should be practical by being prepared if they do

Visualize Success

  • Imagine yourself asking for what you want in a confident and clear manner
  • Visualize accomplishing your goal(s): what it looks and feels like


  • Remind yourself of what you have to lose by asking (nothing) and what you have to gain by asking (everything you want!)

Create a script or talking points in advance of taking specific action

Practice being proactive in small, everyday ways

  • Make specific or special requests at restaurants and stores
  • When you get what you want by asking for it, take a moment to fully realize and process that success, which reinforces said behavior

Most of us fall into traps of fear and inactivity that lead us to have to retroactively work that much harder to achieve success or whatever we set out to accomplish. We can free ourselves from this counterproductive behavior by acknowledging the truth of where we are and where we want to go, and can actively create success by asking for what we want and need (and are sometimes entitled to by law)!

Alex Yoken author photo

About Alex Yoken

Alex Yoken is a New York State certified teacher with over a dozen years of experience tutoring, coaching, advising, and providing advocacy services for students of all ages. She is passionate about helping individuals achieve their unique goals through tailored plans and the most effective strategies. She has given numerous workshops on college success, writing, and special ed advocacy.

Alex’s students have received Regeneron Science Talent Search Scholars and The Journal of Trauma Nursing Literary Excellence Awards. She has helped dozens of students get admitted to college and study at prestigious institutions, including Cornell, Pepperdine, Tulane, and Duke.

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“Patient, understanding and very supportive …”

Having Alex as a tutor was amazing. She is patient, understanding and very supportive in many ways. Alex not only helped our son with his writing and vocabulary, she helped him organize his thoughts and strengthen his study skills. I highly recommend Alex as a tutor.

–Celina M., Greenburgh, NY
“Personalized teaching style, depth of knowledge, attentive manner”

When there are so many great things that can be said about a person, it is hard to find the right words that truly satisfy that person’s character. I first began working with Alex when I was a freshman in high school. Not having success with previous tutors, I concluded that tutors simply are not for me. However, Alex showed me otherwise; her personalized teaching style, depth of knowledge, attentive manner, and even sense of humor is above any tutor I’ve ever encountered. Beyond the skills that make Alex an effective yet enjoyable tutor, she also provides insight and guidance to those who are struggling in certain areas of their life. I have sought Alex’s help with challenges both big and small, and she always steers me in the right direction while teaching me important life skills in the process. As I am now approaching my senior year, I am overwhelmed with feelings of confidence and excitement because I know that I will have Alex by my side.

–Victoria L., Armonk, NY
“Effective, Articulate Advocate”

I hired Alex to help me obtain a private school placement at the district’s expense for my 3rd grader, who is nonverbal and autistic. After hiring an ineffective attorney for the same purpose when my son was in first grade, Alex was able to accomplish this goal and got my son a placement in a specialized, private school program. While this endeavor took months of work, meetings, emails, and school visits to accomplish, my son is now in an appropriate program where he is able to learn and thrive. Additionally, Alex was able to get the school district to provide every single service, accommodation, and technology that I was requesting for my son. Alex is assertive, articulate, and knows the law and best educational practices. As such, she effectively and vociferously advocated on my son’s behalf and accomplished all of my goals. I highly recommend her to anyone in need of an advocate!

-Angela F., New Rochelle, NY
“High Quality Tutor”

Alex is a highly skilled and knowledgeable writing teacher. Warm and nurturing. Reliable. Made learning meaningful, engaging and fun. Definitely recommend and will use again.

-Wendy D., Tarrytown, NY
“Knowledgable and Dedicated”

I must admit that I was absolutely fortunate when I stumbled upon Alex’s website during my internet search a year and a half ago. I was desperately looking for someone to proof read my papers and assist in guiding me throughout the pursuit of my doctorate degree. With the guidance, support, and constructive criticism from this very knowledgeable, insightful, and patient individual I received As in all my courses. I truly enjoyed working with Alex.

-Jessie M., White Plains, NY
“The Best Tutor”

Alex is very well-versed and knowledgeable about many subjects. I have not been in school in over 20 years and now I am back to obtain my doctorate degree. Alex has helped me get organized and has assisted me with my APA citations, grammar, and word choice. My writing skills have improved significantly and every one of my papers has received an A. Alex has provided me with the skills I need to continue my studies. I am so lucky to have met Alex.

– Renee C., Yonkers, NY
“Awesome Teacher and Person”

Amanda: I am a student of Alex’s. I would recommend Alex to other students because she pushes you, gives you confidence, and she has a great sense of humor. She turns around any of your negative feelings into positive ones so you can believe in yourself to succeed.

Doretta: I am Amanda’s mom. Alex has a tremendous amount of patience. She is creative, funny, and very knowledgeable of her material. Alex tutored my daughter to obtain a driving permit. This was a major challenge for Amanda. Aside from needing help to learn the material, Amanda also has severe test anxiety. Amanda also has had many many tutors throughout her life. Alex not only helped Amanda learn the material and prepare for the test, but also made her believe in herself and decreased her anxiety. She is truly an awesome teacher and person. I highly recommend her to any struggling student.

– Amanda and Doretta Tarangioli, Eastchester, NY
“Hardworking and dedicated”

Alex is a hard working and extremely dedicated person. Not only is she able to help me better understand what I am studying but she also has a way of inspiring me to learn more. I have had many tutors and I know for a fact that Alex is by far the best. She pushes me to better myself and helps me become increasingly more interested in school. Alex helps me with whatever I need to improve on and is always the first and most excited to congratulate me on my accomplishments. After studying with Alex my grades have dramatically improved. This made it possible for me to get into a high honors English class after years of special Ed. Also with her help she made looking and applying for colleges an enjoyable experience. She is an amazing tutor and person and I can go on forever stating how much she has helped me become a confident student.

– Nicole L., Armonk, NY
“Extremely knowledgable about the admissions process”

My daughter struggled with writing her college application essay. We were fortunate to meet Alex who not only helped our daughter select the appropriate subject matter and prepare a well-written essay, but minimized the stress and drama that comes with this process. Alex has great writing skills and she is very creative and extremely knowledgable about the admissions process. Alex is a pleasure to work with.

–John S., White Plains, NY
“Knowledgeable and Helpful”

Alex helped me with my personal statements for graduate school. It was helpful to brainstorm ahead of time because it made our sessions more productive. However, we brainstormed more throughout our sessions. She made me feel confident in my writing and the writing process less stressful. She took notes as we talked and cares about making a connection with her students. I definitely recommend her assistance! It was such a pleasure to work with her and I will be sure to keep in contact with her for future assignments!

– Desiree, R., Homer Glen, IL
“Far exceeded expectations”

Alex has worked with my son for three months and the improvement we have seen has been tremendous. My son went from failing in math to exceeding his peers in class. He enjoys his sessions with Alex and as a matter of fact, looks forward to her coming to tutor him, he refers to it as “so much fun and interesting”. Alex provided our son with the necessary strategies to apply to solve math problems and we can see him applying those strategies in his homework assignments.  Our son went from 60’s and 70’s to 95 in scores for his math tests.  We are incredibly lucky and grateful to have found Alex. She has done wonders for our son and has been able to teach him in a manner where he understands and retains the information.  She has far exceeded our expectations in so little time.

–Nadira B., Scarsdale, NY
“Insightful, inspirational, and enthusiastic professional”

Alex has been working with our 2nd grade daughter for over a few months now, and she has had an amazing, positive impact on her. Alex is knowledgeable, hardworking, and extremely patient with our daughter who has been having some challenges reading. Alex was able to identify our daughter’s weaknesses and help provide the necessary strategies and techniques to help her improve her reading skills. Alex is an excellent tutor who my daughter says “makes reading fun”! She eagerly awaits and looks forward to her sessions with Alex as Alex never fails to have a clever game and fun worksheets for them to work on together. With Alex’s help, our daughter’s confidence has really grown, and her reading has significantly improved –she will actually read aloud now! We are so grateful to have found Alex – she has truly been able to teach our daughter in ways that she can understand and learn. We can’t thank Alex enough for all her hard work, and would highly recommend her. If you’re looking for an intelligent, dedicated and incredibly responsive tutor, look no further!

–Eileen B., Tuckahoe, NY
“Dedicated, professional, reliable”

Alex is an inspiring tutor, full of enthusiasm and knowledge. Her lessons are always personalized and tailored specifically to my daughter’s needs.  My 5th grade daughter always looks forward to meeting with Alex, as Alex always includes activities and games that make learning fun for her. I noticed her increase in confidence and it showed through her improvement in grades. Dedicated, professional, reliable – what more could you ask for! I would highly recommend Alex without any hesitation. Thank you, Alex!

–Jen A., White Plains, NY
“Excellent tutor, very helpful”

Alex worked with me very diligently and helped me with several college supplemental essays. Alex knew exactly what college admissions officers were looking for which helped me include critical information in my essays. Also, I was able to engage in conversation with Alex about how to go about revising my essays. She approaches the essay sentence by sentence and makes sure that the essential question: “so what?” is always answered within the writing. I recommend Alex as a tutor for anyone in need of help for any piece of writing.

–Brian W., Greenwich, CT
“Professional, effective tutor and advocate”

I hired Alex as a tutor and an advocate to help me prepare and receive accommodations for an NASM personal training exam. Alex was critical in helping me successfully study and prepare for the test by teaching me effective study skills and test-taking strategies. Alex was able to get NASM to provide me the full extent of accommodations that I was legally entitled to. She also made sure that the reader for my test was competent and prepared by personally escorting me to the testing center to make sure that they were following the appropriate procedures. I am extremely thankful to Alex for her dedication to my success and for helping me pass the exam.

–AJ Sauer, Tarrytown, NY
“Terrific tutor”

Alex is well prepared and detail-oriented and works hard during the sessions to make sure my son understands what she is working on with him.

–Bonnie Y., Scarsdale, NY
“Professional problem-solver”

My adult brother has been working with Alex for the past few months. She is amazing! I have never known someone in this profession to be so patient, insightful and so good at breaking down challenges into pieces of a puzzle in order to find the best possible solution.

–Andrea Weinberg, New York, NY
“Competent, knowledgeable, and committed”

Alex was able to help me improve my study and test-taking skills and I’m so glad I hired her! I am a nursing student in a competitive program and I felt lost given the vast amount of material that I had to study. Alex helped me use recall strategies like mnemonics to remember difficult terminology for exams. She was also helpful in teaching me metacognitive strategies for focus and self-monitoring during testing. I am especially grateful to Alex for helping me navigate through the difficult “red tape” of my program. She taught me effective self-advocacy techniques so that I was able to attain the outcome I was seeking by being assertive about my rights. I am now much more confident about going into my next semester of school and feel like I have the necessary skills to succeed.

–Sam Kudelka, Pleasantville, NY


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