Whenever I ask for something relational that I’m needing (comfort, affection, to be heard or seen) I feel super vulnerable. This isn’t easy.
I worry about:
1. Being turned down
2. Feeling disappointed, and
3. Then judging myself for being too needy, demanding, pushy or selfish.
I also sometimes wish people would just read my mind: isn’t it obvious that I am feeling fragile and needing reassurance or empathy? Ugh.
However, since other people cannot yet read my mind, see into my heart or anticipate what I may mean, it’s a huge gift to us both when I’m able to be more aware and transparent about what I’m needing or wanting.
In case you also struggle to ask for what you want, here are a few steps I’ve found helpful when it comes to making powerful requests:
1. Know What You Need.
Often I am not sure what I even need to begin with.
Eating out for lunch recently, a friend offered to get me a glass of water. He returned with two glasses: one with ice and one without.
“I wasn’t sure if you liked ice or not so I brought both – which one do you want?”
“Either one – I don’t mind,” I replied habitually.
He tilted his head and raised his eyebrows at me.
Oh, right: I get to have preferences. I laughed at myself.
It still took me a couple of seconds to get in touch with my own preferences and then I chose the glass with no ice.
It seems so simple! But, for those of us chronically out-of-touch with our preferences, chronically deferring to others, knowing our preferences or figuring out what we need can take a lot of (worthwhile!) conscious effort.
Knowing what we prefer is sooooo welcome (and not a burden on others!).
2. Open Your Heart.
Before asking for something, check: Am I seeking more control or more connection?
Check in with your heart: Open or closed? Fearful or courageous?
I do a lot of inner work to come from an open-hearted place in which I am willing to hear a yes or a no. I remind myself that I am simply giving someone a chance to help me – but only if they want to.
Being willing to get more vulnerable often inspires a desire in others to reciprocate or help.
Asking another person for help getting something we want or need actually promotes deeper human connection.
3. Ask (Out Loud) For What You Need/Want
Yup, put it out there. Directly and with tenderness.
You could begin with the phrase, “Would you be willing …”
Be as open as you can be to either a yes or a no.
You’re just asking, not demanding.
Watch out for any part of you that thinks they “should” “have to” or “must” say yes … if you are making a demand instead of a true “ask,” you might unintentionally be setting up a power struggle or an internal conflict.
4. Ask for Positive, Do-able, Present Moment Behaviors
Asking people to “be more empathic,” “be more emotionally supportive,” “be more considerate” doesn’t give them specific enough information.
Instead, they are likely to hear it as criticism and respond with defensiveness and explanations.
Ask for specific behaviors: what they could say or do in this moment that would meet your needs for empathy, consideration, care or support. Focus what they can DO, not who they are or what qualities you’d like them to embody.
Marshall Rosenberg used to say “The number one reason people’s needs are not met, is unclear requests.”
I’ll illustrate with an example from my own life ….
Me to a loved one: “Sometimes I wonder if I am a priority and I worry that what I need isn’t that important to you.”
Their response: Begin to explain and provide evidence of why my interpretation was false, listing many historical ways in which they’d already tried to make me feel important and how nothing they do gets through to me.
Catching my super-unclear request and realizing that they had heard my statement as a criticism, I interrupted – “Wait, wait, can I stop you for a second? Before you go on, can I add something that might help?”
They paused, warily … “Sure, yeah …”
“I’m just feeling insecure. All I need to hear in this moment is that I am important to you, that you do care about what I am needing, and that you hear me and accept me but only if that feels true for you. That’s it. Really.”
“That’s all you need right now?” they replied with relief. “I didn’t realize that…”
And then? I got oodles of warm and fuzzy reassurance right after that.
5. Default to the Present Moment.
Try these two simple scripts:
Could you tell me how what I just said is landing on you right now?
Could you tell me what you’re hearing me ask for so I can see if I am being clear or not?
Either one of these requests invites an increase in present moment connection between two people.
Learning to ask for something that can happen here and now has been a liberating learning for me.
It’s all about helping others to help us better.
Let’s practice this week: Know what you are needing and find specific, do-able, open-hearted ways of inviting others to contribute to your well being.