“You can’t always get what you want…”
— And chances are you won’t get what you need either. Unless you ask.
Asking for what we want can be challenging. Believe me, I know this first hand. The kicker, though, is that we can’t expect other people to read our minds. If there are things we seek — help, advice, needs to be met, hopes to be filled — we kinda have to open our mouths and ask.
So what is it that holds us back from giving voice to what we want? Generally speaking, it’s fear. Fear of looking selfish or needy or demanding or stupid. Fear of admitting to both ourselves and others that we can’t “do it all alone”. Fear of being disappointed if we don’t get what we’ve asked for. Fear of feeling rejected or unworthy if the other person doesn’t want to meet our request. But the truth is, we need other people. And we usually gain by asking, regardless of the outcome.
Speaking up is one of the few ways we can actually determine where we stand. Just as we can’t expect other people to be mind-readers, we can’t assume we know what they are thinking, either. Perhaps our request can be met more easily than we anticipated, or a satisfying compromise quickly negotiated. If, on the other hand, what we want is completely off-the-table, it may lead to some important life or self-reflection. Asking may also help us avoid much of the bitterness and resentment that can result from feeling repeatedly overlooked, unseen, or taken-for-granted.
That being said, there are some helpful principles to consider if we endeavour to be both successful and empowered by the whole process. These hold true whether we are approaching our romantic partner or our boss.
1. Know What You Want
It may sound obvious, but before you can ask for what you want, you have to know what you want. Really know. Do some soul-searching; write down your goals to gain clarity; and strive to be intentional instead of reactive. Generally speaking, we want our requests to be truly meaningful and not knee-jerk reactions precipitated by hurt, anger or fear.
2. Be Assertive Not Passive/Aggressive
Pretty sure I am not the only one who has attempted passive-aggressive, understated, over-justified or indirect requests. Take my word for it – in addition to being relatively ineffective, this approach can be downright inflammatory or leave us more frustrated than if we hadn’t spoken up at all. However, being respectfully assertive and letting someone know what we would like is much different than being aggressive or insisting on something to the detriment of others. Think about how you might like to be asked: Be realistic, honest, polite, direct and straightforward. And then indicate your appreciation for being heard and acknowledged, irrespective of the answer.
3. Own Your Story: Ask from a Place of Strength & Self-Acceptance
When asking, own it. Own your story. Own your feelings. Own your worth. Take a breath and remind yourself that you are courageous and worthy, that you deserve what you are asking for, and that you are strong enough to handle whatever response comes your way.
4. Be an Active Listener
We often get what we give. By truly listening and being open to the needs of others, we can create an atmosphere of generosity and reciprocity. Instead of making assumptions, seek to clarify what the people around you are looking for. This does NOT mean saying “yes” to everything. Communication can be encouraged and feelings respected without granting every request that comes your way.
In the end, when we learn how to ask, we are more likely to get what we want. But it is also my experience that being able to communicate our own needs enables us to be more generous about meeting the needs of others. And this makes it a real win-win proposition.
Take the time to think about what you really want and ask for it from a place of confidence. Be receptive and open to what comes next. Dig deep for your courage and be true to yourself as you work toward creating your own happiness.
Addendum: When we ask for help and open-up about what we want and need, we show our vulnerability. Vulnerability is a good thing, but it does require some caution in terms of when we share it and who we share it with. This raises the subject of personal boundaries.
Personal boundaries are kind of like the unwritten ‘rules of engagement’ in our relationships. They determine the way we communicate, how much we give of ourselves both physically and emotionally, and what we are willing to accept from others. Boundaries have a dramatic impact on the health and happiness of our relationships and our lives. Please see the blog, "Build Healthy Boundaries" to learn more!