It can be hard for us to let people see what matters to us. We may try to pretend to ourselves and to others that we don’t have needs. What if they think what I want is silly or selfish?
Requesting something from someone else can feel very vulnerable. What if they say no*? What if they misunderstand what I’m asking? What if it doesn’t matter to them what I need? What if they don’t respond in the way I’m hoping?*
Making requests isn’t easy for me, but I can feel good about the way I ask…even when I don’t always get the response I hope to hear. Asking myself the following questions before making a request helps:
What am I really asking?
Before making a request of anyone else, it’s crucial to get really clear for ourselves about what it is we want. Sometimes we know we want something to be different, but aren’t sure what we want instead.
For example, maybe you feel lonely and disconnected from a friend and want to spend more time together. That’s fantastic, but what do you mean by more time? Does that mean you see each other daily, weekly, monthly? Do you go out to eat, chill on the couch in sweatpants, go for walks, try a new adventure every time? Is more time always face-to-face or do other forms of communication play a role?
If you aren’t clear about what you want, how can the other person possibly respond to your request in a satisfactory way? The other person might—with the best intentions—start signing you both up for rock climbing and improv classes when what you really wanted was quiet conversations over coffee.
How can I make it as easy as possible to respond to my request?
It’s important to remember that people aren’t mind readers. Just because someone is close to you doesn’t mean they will automatically know what you want or come to the same conclusions you do. We all have our own unique perspectives.
Sometimes we drop hints because we want to think others can anticipate our needs without being told. It can feel safer to be vague about what we really want.
Being specific, however, makes it easier for others to know exactly what it is we’re asking. It’s hard for people to say yes when it’s unclear what they’re committing to do. If we’re too vague, they might not even realize we’re making a request at all.
There is a big difference between I want to spend more time together and I miss you when we don’t spend time together regularly. Would you be willing to meet for coffee twice a month so we can keep up on each other’s lives?
How do I want to show up?
Just as it matters what we ask, it makes a difference how we ask. Making requests is a way of expressing that we value our own needs and that we trust another person to value them too. This can feel very vulnerable.
As Hannah Braime points out in her fantastic course, Be Your Own Hero , it’s tempting to focus on what the other person has or hasn’t done in an attempt to deflect our own vulnerable feelings. This, however, is likely to lead the other person to feel defensive and shut down conversation.
Hannah suggests instead that we focus on our own feelings using “I-Statements” and keep our references to the other person objective and judgment-free. Notice the difference between You never have time for me and I miss you when we don’t see each other regularly.
What if the answer is no?
As much as we’d like everyone to always agree to our requests, sometimes they won’t. It’s ok to be disappointed, but it’s also important to remember that a no isn’t necessarily personal. It simply means what you’re asking isn’t a good fit for the other person at this time.
When making a request, how we respond to a no matters. If the other person believes they will be blamed or punished for not agreeing, then they will see our question as a demand instead of a request.
Whether due to their history with you or experiences with others, some people may suspect you are making a demand even if you are genuinely making a request. According to Marshall Rosenberg in his book, Nonviolent Communication, “the most powerful way to communicate that we are making a genuine request is to empathize with people when they don’t agree to the request.”
This doesn’t mean there is no room for negotiation. On the contrary, showing that you empathetically understand why the other person said no can open up space for conversation to find a solution that works for both of you.
Regardless of whether you receive a yes or a no, your needs do matter. When someone declines your request, you may need to find a different way to meet those needs. Ultimately, you are the one responsible for making sure your needs are met. That doesn’t mean you can’t ask for help, but it does mean finding other possibilities if that help isn’t freely given.
I’d love to know…what do you find most challenging about making requests? What helps? How do you respond when someone tells you no?