When my husband and I first met, he wasn’t interested. He thought I was cute, but crazy. I knew right away he was someone I wanted to get to know better. He was one of 7 men in a classroom of 50 people. I kept hearing some beautiful male voice say things that really impressed me. Soulful things, intelligent things, attractive things. But I couldn’t catch him talking at first. All the men sat in a clump on the far left rear of the classroom. I couldn’t tell who was speaking.
When I finally figured out which body went with that beautiful heart and mind, the semester was getting old. My chances to get his attention were few and getting fewer. I had to make a move or lose the opportunity to meet him. So I asserted myself while he was talking to an entire group of admiring women. He was talking about heading out to hike a long trail. I gave him my business card, and told him to drop me a postcard. He didn’t know me from Adam’s housecat. My card didn’t have an address on it. But he called me. He still wasn’t interested, but that is another story.
I asked for what I wanted. Women outnumbered men in that class 6:1, but it was me he called. Because I let him know I wanted to hear from him.
Our daughter is now 14. We have cleverly kept her penniless, and she is just now deciding that she needs money and that means finding work. She’s willing to work (for anyone but us), but she is not willing to ask for work. So it’s not likely she will get any work. If no one knows what she wants, she is unlikely to get it. And this is true for you, too.
It can be terrifying to ask for what you want. What if people react badly? What if they remain calm, but they think poorly of you later? What if your request or statement puts them on the spot? What if they say yes when they want to say no? What if they resent you?! What if they Hate you!?!
But wait!…What if they…don’t? What if they are glad you asked? What if they give you what you want? What if it’s not a big deal either way? What if they say no, and it’s not a problem? What if we all try to take responsibility for our own stuff? What if we didn’t have to guess at what our partner wanted because he asks for what he wants?
It’s ok to ask. It’s even ok to pitch it, presenting your argument for why giving you what you want is beneficial to them. It’s ok to be told no. You may be severely disappointed. You may even decide you have to leave your job or your relationship, but at least you’ll know. You will know that you are not getting your request fulfilled and now you are free to make your next decision. The alternative can be spending years thinking you will eventually be rewarded at work or within your family, only to find out the thing you desired and even expected is not going to happen.
Asking for what you want increases your chances of getting what you want. Asking does not guarantee your wish will be granted, but successful people agree that not asking seriously decreases your chances of getting what you want.
OK, you say, but how is this asking thing done if one is shy and unsure?
1. Know what you want. Easier said than done! Ask yourself frequently “What am I feeling? What do I need? What do I want?” Be still and listen to that inner voice. It’s there, waiting for you.
2. Know what you are willing to trade. Are you expecting that you have already earned this, or are you asking for a gift? Are you proposing a reciprocal arrangement? What are you willing to give in return? If you want no strings attached, know that, too.
3. Compose your attitude correctly. You deserve good things. (If you are sure this is not true you are reading the wrong article.) Say this 10,000 times until you believe it in your bones. Who has power in the relationship? Do you need to be firm and businesslike? Soft and humble? Charming? Persuasive? Evaluate whether yours is a common, simple request, or is it a big commitment on the part of the giver? Or are you asking for the world? It’s ok to be confident, bold even. It’s ok to ask for a lot, but try to put yourself in the shoes of the other. Show up wearing the right attitude.
4. Find some words. If it’s tricky, or an audacious request, or you are shy or not good with words, compose your request. Miss Manners, Dear Abby, Emily Post all have some phrases that are helpful. I have a friend who is especially good at helping me say all kinds of things in the kindest, clearest way possible. I have at times written notes on index cards when I am nervous about asking. I have even read from the same cards, held in trembling hands, to a person sitting in front of me.
5. Choose your moment. Try to find a time when everyone is rested, fed and not feeling pressured by deadlines or other concerns. Make an appointment if needed, even with a family member, even with your spouse.
6. Set the tone. Sometimes I say “I want to ask a favor, but whatever you decide is fine.” Or “I have thought about this a lot, and I feel I need this/deserve this. Feel free to take some time to think about it, because this is important.” This gives people an idea of the relative importance of your request.
7. Make the ask. Be succinct. Then stop talking to underline the fact that the next move is theirs. “Why don’t you send me a postcard?” “Can I please have a Coca-Cola?” “I would prefer an ocean view.” “Our room is not satisfactory, do you have another room you can put us in?” “Do you want to meet me sometime for a meal?” “I’d like to have a shot at that promotion.” “Is it possible that I could work from home?” “Do you have any work that I could do for you?” “Could you find some time to listen to me while I tell you about a problem I’m having?” “Thanks for the advice, but what I really need is for you to just listen.” “Will you marry me?”
8. Set a time frame. Some answers are immediate, some deserve time. Suggest a time frame. “Do you need time to think about it? Can you let me know by tomorrow/next week?”
9. Let it go. People are going to do what they are going to do. You will be happier if you let go of notions about what other people should do. They make their choices the best they know how, just like you do. There are many variables that you will never know about. So respect their decisions, and now, armed with your answer, yes or no, you can make your own choices.
10. Practice this over and over and over. It gets easier. The benefits are freedom, knowledge and self-respect, honesty, intimacy, and greater success and satisfaction in personal, work and financial relationships. Practice with smaller things often, push yourself to address all the big things (you know what they are because they make you feel nervous) until you get really good at asking for what you want.