Don’t take “no” for an answer, says Joan Burge

You know the scenario. You read about a great seminar, workshop or conference for administrative office professionals. The topics are of interest to you and will help you in your job. You walk into your manager’s office to request his or her approval only to hear “no”. You walk out. End of story.

Selling your executive on supporting your professional development is a skill.

It’s also known as the art of persuasion. While training, coaching, and consulting thousands of Assistants nationwide, I have found that they don’t see they have to work at gaining support for training and development. They view it as a “yes” or “no” situation. “Yes, I’ll get to go” or “My manager will say no.” Instead, an Assistant needs to view this as, “This is a great program. This will help me become a better Assistant and a more valuable employee. How will I sell this to my executive?” You now have your subconscious working to develop ideas and language on how to get a “yes” from your executive.

I also hear Assistants say, “My executive will never approve this” so they never present their case to their executive. It’s all in positioning your thinking. You have to really believe that you are worth investing in and that you and your executive will both win big with this investment.

I’m providing this advice after being on both sides of the desk. For 20 years I was an Assistant and I often had to persuade my executives to let me attend seminars and conferences. Since 1990, I’ve been on the other side of the desk as the CEO of Office Dynamics International. I see the executives’ perspective. There has to be return on the investment (ROI) in an employee. As an employer, whether one of my staff is attending a one-day workshop or a four-day conference, I expect them to come back to the office with ideas and to become better at their job.

I take training and education seriously.

I have been providing training to administrative professionals since 1990. Organizations hire me to train their Assistants and expect behavior change as a result. They not only invest financially in education for their Assistants, but they are giving their administrative staff time away from their desks for the training.

Before you can “sell” someone else to support you, you have to be 100% convinced that you need and deserve training and educational resources. If you are not convinced of your own value and need to grow, you will not be able to persuade anyone else. I say this from 42 years of experience. Use the guidelines below to help you gain support for your professional development whether for a conference, onsite workshop, online course or books. Help your executive see why it is beneficial to invest in your education and how your executive will also win as a result.

Points to consider

1. You need to continually learn and grow.

In today’s competitive marketplace and at the pace this profession is changing, if you do not continually enhance your skills, build new ones, and have a strategy for your career, you will get left in the dust.

2. Don’t feel guilty about being out of the office to attend a program or conference that will make you better equipped, faster, smarter and sharper.

3. Get your executive to see the long-term payoff.

Often executives think about the number of days you will be out of the office. You need to help them see that while you may be gone three or four days, you will gain skills and knowledge that will take you, and them, into the future.

4. Executives travel all over the country. Why shouldn’t you?

Some Assistants tell me they can only attend seminars that take place in their city or state. That is not 21st-Century thinking. Assistants should be a business partner to their executive, so start acting like a business partner and convince your manager why you should be allowed to travel out of state

5. You need to be selective.

I’m sure you receive lots of information on seminars, conferences and workshops for administrative and executive Assistants.

Some things to consider are:

  • Who is the speaker? What qualifies them to speak on the subjects covered?
  • If they are going to speak on how to thrive in your profession, do they understand the administrative profession? Did they ever work for any length of time as an administrative office professional? And did they work in various positions and organizations so they can share a broader perspective?
  • What is the value of the program? In other words, what are you getting for your money? Any extra events such as a welcome dinner? What meals are included? Of course, the content should always be the most important but when you are comparing one seminar to another and can only attend one, you need to consider these other aspects.
  • Inquire about the quality of the workshop materials? Will you be able to use them as reference guide after the training? Do they provide robust information? What about post-class follow-up activities for ongoing learning?
  • Is this a lecture or will you be actively involved in the learning process?

6. Don’t give up.

If you really believe this training will help you professionally or even just rejuvenate your enthusiasm for your career, realize it may take three or four attempts to convince your manager. You may have to try different ways or formats to persuade your executive and, remember, timing is important.

Principles of Persuasion

1. Know exactly what you want to accomplish by attending the training or conference.

You should list your objectives alongside each topic in the curriculum and how that will tie into your current job or prepare you for the future.

2. To be a good seller, consider the buyer’s viewpoint.

Try to put yourself in your executive’s position. What key selling points would be important to your executive? How will your executive benefit from you attending training or a seminar?

3. Learn what motivates your executive.

Is your executive motivated by ROI (return on investment), the skills you will develop or you learning from an acclaimed expert in the field? Does your executive believe in personal development and growth? If not, it will be a harder sell but don’t give up; be persistent.

4. Keep in mind the format you will use to present your case.

Try to gauge your receiver’s communication style preference. Does your executive prefer information short and to the point or does your executive like details? Is your executive a visual learner? If so, provide graphs or charts to make your point.

5. Tie key learning points of the seminar or conference to your professional development plan for the year and to the goals of your department.

6. Show your executive how what you will learn will help you in specific areas of your job.

For example: let’s say one of the topics covered will be learning and understanding communication styles. Tell your executive you will use that information to be a better communicator by tapping into the receiver’s style, build rapport with internal and external customers, and complementing your executive’s and his or her staff’s communication styles.

7. If your executive still says no to the training or seminar, sincerely ask your executive why he or she believes this is not a good investment.

You may be able to counter that perception.

8. Offer options.

Say, “Would you rather I attend the conference in May in California or the seminar in September in Atlanta?”

9. It always helps to let your executive know that you will share what you have learned with other Assistants in your organization.

But be absolutely cognizant of copyrights.

10. Emphasize the benefits of networking with peers and learning from others in the field.

11. Negotiate if necessary.

Ask your executive to pay the registration fee and hotel and you’ll pay your airfare. Or you pay for your hotel stay and ask your executive to pay for registration and airfare. Be creative!

12. If all else fails, maybe you need to make the financial investment in yourself.

Yes, I said you make the investment. I know several high-performing Assistants who have spent thousands of dollars on their development and have reaped tremendous rewards over the years.

Most of the time Assistants tell me they can’t attend our programs because of budget cuts. Sometimes it really is a budget issue. I understand that perfectly as a business owner and CEO. But often, it’s just lack of knowing how to sell the program to the executive.

Have the courage to go after what you want. That in itself is a learning experience.



Joan Burge is known as the pioneer of the administrative training industry. Joan is an accomplished author, professional speaker, corporate trainer, and coach. After working in the administrative profession for 20 years, Joan founded Office Dynamics ... (Read More)

3 comments on “Getting to Yes! – Gaining Support for Training

  1. Gina-Georgeta Cristescu on

    I appreciate everything I read and the way a admin worker could be well train to be excellent at her working place. I consider my self a very good and hard worker, disciplined and very well organized but…in 2011, because of shortage of Budget I was lay off and find some job here and there with the Agencies’ for 11 or 12$/hour….
    Since 2014, at age 60 – I am retired and until today I didn’t work anymore…my pension is around $300/month and is not enough to survive. I am lucky because my husband has his pension better than mine and keep us O.K.
    I love to work and improve my communication skills..etc… and use specific sentences to perform a professional conversation when Is necessary…
    My dear, or the person who I wrote those words…I need desperate your help but…I do not have money to pay to you…if is possible…send me (if you want), few samples of my require needs and I will thank you from the bottom of my heart and I will pray for you and your family to keep your memory healthy and to be in a good health until the end. I am from Romania and I am in Canada since ’95 if you need my resume – let me know – to have a bit idea about me.

  2. Sue France on

    This is an excellent article and I one hundred percent agree with everything Joan says including when Assistants book on courses they should check out the credibility and proven track record of the trainers who ideally should have been Assistants themselves and had wider roles to share all of their experiences. Having been an award winning assistant myself as well as a training manager for assistants and having my own assistant for a global accountancy company, I know how important it is that the delegates do something different when they get back into work to prove their return on investment.

    From a slightly different perspective some Assistants are sent on training who have not asked for it, they may have been offered it or sometimes they are told to go on it. These assistants do not know how lucky they are and sometime get on the defensive thinking they are lacking in something. However, they should realise that if they were not well thought of their boss would not sanction such spending and be so encouraging in their career and success. They should view it as their company appreciates them so much they want to help them be even more successful and they should take advantage of every opportunity to learn. When they attend they should go with the right attitude of appreciation and willingness to learn and take action as soon as they return to work to embed the learning and also I am in no doubt that the right trainer will give them a boost and motivate them helping them to realise what an amazing and important role being an assistant is.

    I have owned my own training company for Assistants since 2009 and have worked in 26 countries and like Joan, I fly the flag for the Assistant/Office manager encouraging them to learn as much possible as we now know we have neuroplasticity of the mind which means we can keep on growing and learning until the day we die.

    If you are asked to go on training then grab the opportunity, if you want to ask for training then what is stopping you and what’s the worst that can happen? – They will realise you care about your career and learning and will know they have to be careful if they want to keep you. If you get turned down the first time then ask when will it be appropriate for you to attend as you need to get it booked possibly up to a year in advance to make sure you get a place on the course/conference/workshop that is suitable for your needs.

    Good luck and I hope to meet you one day. Sue France, author of award winning “The Definitive Executive Assistant & Managerial Handbook” and “The Definitive Personal Assistant & Secretarial Handbook.”

  3. Emma Guevarra on

    For the last 30 years now…working as a secretary (started when I was 16) working whilst studying. Secretary tot he Assistant General Manager, General Offset Press, Inc., Manila, Philippines, Secretary to the daughter of the franchise Avon dealer in Manila, Philippines, Secretary to the General Manager, Engineering Department of Edward J Nell, Makati, Philippines, Secretary to the Vice President and Sales Manager, Triumph Office Machines, E. De Los Santos Avenue, Manila, Philippines, Secretary to the Vice President & Corporate Secretary, China Banking Corporation, Binondo Manila, Philippines and in 1988 I decided to migrate to Sydney Australia where on my 2nd day I got a job as a secretary to the Director, Lanham Laundry in Camperdown, Sydney, Typist at the Australian Taxation Office, Sydney, Secretary to six commercial managers and 6 assistants at Westpac Banking Corporation in Liverpool and Castlereagh Street, Sydney, Technical Support at Optus Cable and Pay T.V. at Lane Cove, Sydney, Legal Secretary, Minter Ellison Lawyers, Phillip Street, Sydney, Deacons Lawyers, Grosvenor Place, Sydney, Legal Studies Teacher (Administration), TAFE Ultimo Sydney, Dental Assistant, Earlwood Dental Care, Earlwood, Sydney, Senior Legal Secretary, Abadee Dresdner & Freeman Lawyers, Pitt Street, Sydney and currently a Senior Legal Secretary with Atanaskovic Hartnell Lawyers, Elizabeth Street, Sydney. After all these long years of experience as secretary administrative assistant, records management officer, name all the duties and tasks I have performed and I have performed them well. The most challenging role I have ever played in being a secretary was to be strong and how to battle it with a hard bully boss. I keep my calm, every time he bullies me, I keep compose and strong but I still remain to be excellent and doesn’t stop moving and doing things for the company. 30 years as secretary i think is not long enough to learn as the saying goes “neuroplasticity” we learn and gain knowledge till we die. I used to work for a boss who doesn’t talk to me for weeks and the only time he will talk to me was when he would ask me to get him lunch. I am really not affected with this type of boss as I have other bosses to look after, as at one time I work for two partners, 2 senior associates, 2 lawyers or solicitors, 1 office manager, etc. I had once worked with a boss who everytime I ask him something he would scream and tell me “GO AWAY YOU ARE WASTING MY TIME AND YOU ARE DISTURBING ME I AM CONCENTRATING ON MY WORK”. He once emailed a partner and a solicitors telling them I am an alarmist, I don’t handle or approach a problem wisely, I am unintelligent, silly, tell them all off me – I wasn’t bothered I keep my cool but at the back of my mind as I am a joyous, joking person who has the best sense of humour – i promise to myself that if this one asked me to get him lunch – i know what to do with his bread…don’t ask me as this is recorded. The reason why I am connecting to this chain is I still want to be efficient and competitive with the best EA’s in town and the best organiser ever, it doesn’t matter big or law firms or other non legal companies. I still have the urge and hot blood to learn how I can diarise all of my boss’ personal property, affairs and financials with various banks and other institutions, including his wife. If I attend this session or learning I will have to shoulder the expense as I am sure the big boss won’t pay and he would answer me with a BIG NO if I ask him to pay. Let us not stop to learn, we should keep on learning and chasing new things – by the way, I have a passion to learn EDRMS and TRIM. The other day there was a job offer for $112,000 per annum but they require someone who is professional and adept to EDRMS and TRIM…missed it.


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