“If there is something to gain and nothing to lose by asking, by all means ask!” W. CLEMENT STONE
Getting what you want isn’t always easy, and, for many, neither is the asking. Yet, the ability to make clear, concise requests is a hallmark of those who achieve what they want in life, to include personal success and great relationships.
If you read this and are thinking, “but I do ask,” “it falls on deaf ears,” or “nothing works,” etc., think again.
It’s not uncommon for people to think they are making requests when instead they’re merely venting, complaining, or repeating a well-worn mini-lecture.
Without realizing it, these practices can waste time and energy. They tend to erode the rapport you need and amp up the resistance and reactivity of the person you want to influence.
All are ineffective strategies. In fact, in most every cases, complaints and criticisms are merely poorly worded requests.
They simply do not work, except to elevate your own stress.
There’s a better way. Simply ask. Make a clear request.
So, why don’t you?
Perhaps it’s one or more of the following reasons.
One reason is habit. Human beings are creatures of habit.
Your brain is wired to form them, and you’ve trained it to automatically activate the behaviors you most practice. It’s efficient, easy, and saves time. Also, you are more likely to resort to knee-jerk habits when you get triggered or feel stressed general.
One day after work, for example, you notice several chores that need attention. Instead of making a clear request, such as, “I’d like some help with … this afternoon,” however, you blurt out a complaint, “It would be a miracle if someone lifted a finger around here!”
- And when you don’t get the response you’re looking for (not likely, using this approach), your stress level escalates.
- As if on cue, a tirade of words automatically comes from your mouth, “But does anyone care or appreciate how hard I work? No! It doesn’t matter how many times I say …”
- Steaming at first, you complete the chores on your own and, feeling better, you decide to give “silent treatment” to your “ungrateful” family members that evening.
2. Not knowing what you want
A second reason for not making requests has to do with not taking the time to clarify what what you want in a given situation.
- How can you make a request, if you’re only vaguely or completely unaware of what you need and want?
- How can others understand your view or feelings, if you haven’t checked what is going on inside of you?
It’s a lot easier to give in to complaining or blaming. It’s more ‘comfortable’ (thus a ‘pseudo feel-good‘) to focus on others’ shortcoming or lack of appreciation, even when you know that negative thinking only magnifies the problem. In contrast, it can be quite uncomfortable to turn the focus of change on yourself.
Imagine what this energy could achieve, however, if you shift to a problem solving mode, to understand the problem this causes for you, and to break it down into bite size chunks, and to gain more clarity in what you want.
A third reason is connected to fear. The thought of making requests sends shudders up and down the spine of many. Making a request can leave you feeling vulnerable, exposed, and unprotected from core fears, such as rejection, inadequacy, loss of control, etc.
Being human, you have emotional drives to feel valued and meaningfully connect, in particular, to those closest to you. Whether you are aware of these inner strivings or not, they are powerful forces that motivate and shape the actions you take.
- According to researcher Dr. John Gottman, in The Relationship Cure, when you make requests you are also are making a “bid for connection.”
- A “no” can feel like a rejection; on the other hand, a request can feel like criticism.
Fear of closeness may well be the greatest fear. It is in intimate encounters with those closest to us after all that we feel most vulnerable, as we struggle to position ourselves so that we feel loved, accepted and valued in relation to significant others in our life. This type of fear, however, is really there to stretch you out of comfort zones, and to grow your courage and capacity for authentic connection.
4. Limiting beliefs
A fourth reason has to do with beliefs. Beliefs shape your thoughts, your experience of life. They form perceptions that your subconscious relies on to filter incoming data. Thus, emotional reactivity largely stems from how you perceive events, and not the events themselves.
Unfortunately, most of us have been exposed to some limiting beliefs in our culture. One of these belief systems has to do with what it means to make requests, in particular, what it means when we say ‘no’ or others say ‘no’ to us.
A belief is limiting when it sets conditions that unnecessarily activate core fears, and interfere with the quality of your life and your chances for successfully realizing what you really want in life. Much of the fear that surrounds making requests has to do with not clarifying the distinct differences between ‘requests’ and ‘demands.’
- When a request is made, unlike a demand, there is a mutual understanding that the person has an inherent right to choose a ‘no’ response.
- It is only natural that the person making the request may be upset to some degree, and may even express their feelings.
- There is, however, no automatic retribution. No instilling the other with fear, shame or guilt until they say ‘yes,’ for example.
In contrast, a demand implies force or a threat that some form of retribution will follow.
A request is not a demand because the giver is free to give. This forms the basis for an authentic relationship and allows giving and receiving to flow naturally. It makes giving out of love or joy possible; and questions whether “giving” out of fear, guilt or shame, in most cases, is real or genuine giving.
Is it real giving if force is a factor?
All of the above reasons risk becoming excuses, that is, if you let habits, fear, or not knowing what you want keep you stuck in old patterns. Any limiting beliefs about what it means to refuse requests also form subconscious thoughts that can operate as “excuses” or biases.
Excuses do have ‘protective’ value, however. Making requests can stir uncomfortable emotions of vulnerability. Excuses can seem like “reasonable” ways to avoid feeling emotions one neither wants or likes to deal with.
If you avoid making clear and direct requests, it’s likely because you:
- Want to avoid the risk of being turned down.
- Feel it’s selfish or self-centered to ask about your needs, wants.
- Worry you may be considered selfish or self-centered.
- Feel overwhelmed by emotions inside just thinking about it.
- Insist you do not know what you want, and never have.
- Feel you are undeserving or have not earned this right.
- Believe those who love you should know without being told.
- Think you’re not ‘good at’ expressing yourself with words.
- Feel uncomfortable drawing attention to yourself in your relationships.
- Feel this is “the way you are” and cannot change.
- Judge those who make requests as weak and needy.
- Assume that others will say no, so ‘what’s the point’.
- Avoid risk of others evaluating or dismissing your wants.
- Worry your request will hurt other persons.
- Want to avoid appearing weak or needy.
As subconscious neural patterns, excuses can direct the course of events. As perceptions, they best predict actions you will take.
- They tell you what you ‘should’ or ‘shouldn’t’ do to feel loved or valued.
- They shape how you relate to yourself or others.
Do any of the above ‘excuses’ block you from making clear requests? Why not save energy to make clear requests instead?
Making requests is no small matter.
You are hard-wired with inner strivings to matter in your life and relationships. You cannot change that.
Excuses can rob you of the emotional energy you need to make changes, you’re equipped to make, in optimal directions.
Granted, making requests and working collaboratively to produce win-win solutions requires more effort. It takes more energy to change a behavior than stay with a familiar one.
Be prepared to make changes. You may need to replace a belief or two, for example. In relational contexts, you need:
- To know you can handle a ‘no’ — and have the confidence to believe in others’ capacity to handle a ‘no’ from you.
- To accept and believe in yourself to the extent that you feel safe and confident enough to remain open to feel any upsetting emotions, without getting triggered.
Requests are bids for connection in a relationship.
Making requests is a key ingredient that, when handled in life enriching ways, can deepen and strengthen the giving and receiving in your relationships. How you formulate and deliver them, and how you respond to them, can directly impact the formation of emotional intimacy, connection or rapport between you and another.
What you want is no small matter; it is a compass for navigating your life.
It’s your job to know what you want, and to make clear requests that energize the flow of open and authentic communication between your heart and the hearts of significant persons in your life.