How to Ask for What you Want


Making straightforward and kind requests can strengthen-or even save-relationships.

You know you can’t change people. If you could, everyone around you would be exactly the way you want them to be and your relationships would all be simple and perfect. I’m going to venture a guess that that’s not the case.

Knowing that you can’t change them, many people take what they think is their only option—the über enlightened approach trying to accept their “other” exactly as they are.

I totally laud you, enlightened ones. Acceptance feels good. It’s kind. It’s the ideal state, no doubt.

Except its rarely easy and sometimes it’s simply not gonna happen. Try as you might, sometimes you just can’t or aren’t willing to fully accept your other exactly as they are.

You might really want them in your life but their behavior is something you simply won’t live with. Or you feel defensive or scared or angry when they are around so something has to change.

What can you do when complete acceptance isn’t happening yet you really want to keep them around? Ask for what you want.

It is –encouraged, even—to make simple and straightforward requests of the important people in your life.

Asking for what you want is not the same thing as trying to change them. In fact, it’s very different in one major way: A request is about a behavior, not a trait or way of being. When you make a request you’re not asking them to change who they are, you’re simply and straightforwardly asking them to change something they do.

Huge difference, huh? Making a specific behavioral request in order to save a relationship is quite enlightened, actually.

So it’s not, “Stop being so thoughtless”, it’s “Could you please put our anniversary into your iPhone so that you remember?”
It’s not, “Quit playing video games so much—you’re 35 years old for crying out loud”, it’s “Could you please turn down the volume on the game when I’m around?”

Following those examples, here are some guidelines for making requests:

1. Make it all about the behavior and not at all about them. Because it’s not about them, really. They are not an awful person; they aren’t thoughtless or immature or wrong in any way, they simply forget anniversaries or play video games.

2. Let them know why their behavior bothers you and what it would mean to you if they changed it. You’re not just being bossy or controlling…there is a reason what they do bothers you so much. Share it with them.

3. Be very specific about what you want. Use the examples above as a model and suggest a behavior you would like to see instead rather than simply complaining about what they currently do.

4. Acknowledge and praise what is good about them. Let your other know how much you appreciate the other thoughtful things he does. Tell him you totally understand that he needs to blow off steam after he works so hard all day and you get that video games are his favorite way to do that. Give genuine praise for all that is good about them—there is a lot that is good when you look for it.

5. Be open to negotiation…or a flat out no. Your request for less video game time might be met with negotiation or with a flat out no. That’s okay—your job was to ask for what you want, their job is to grant or not grant your request. No harm, no foul. If they say no, you’ll have to make a choice about what you’re willing to live with but at least you asked. At least you put it out there and did your part.

So go ahead, ask. Make your request. Follow the guidelines above. Even if they deny your request, you’ll be no worse off than you are now. And in many cases you’ll end up with an outcome that’s much better than what you have now.

Dr. Amy Johnson is teaching a 3 week telecourse called Radical Relationship 911 to help you transform your relationships. It begins May 23. Check it out.