Tool For Tuesday: How Do You Ask For What You Want?

My friend Joelle is about to move to a new apartment. She asked me, “What are good strategies to help me get the most help from Shawn during my move?”

Shawn is her off-and-on boyfriend. Right away, can’t you smell trouble brewing? It is clear from her question that Shawn does not volunteer to help her much so she needs to find ways to get him to help her. So how do we ask for what we want?

Well here are some of the standard ways:

Manipulation. That’s one way to get people to do things for us. We figure out how we can manipulate a scene or say things in a certain way so that people then feel obligated to help us. Or invite them for dinner on the day you need help. Oh, since you’re already here…

Guilt. “I’ve done so many things for you, can’t you, just this once….?” Remember, that everything done out of guilt backfires. If we do things out of guilt, it backfires against us (usually in the form of resentment). And if someone does something for us out of guilt, then it isn’t sincere and they will usually demand something in return.

Helplessness. Play the sympathy card and you’re stoking the guilt fires. Usually people who confuse pity with love play helpless to get people to jump in and rescue them. But is that how we want to live our life?

Seduction. Not only sexual seduction. We can emotionally seduce someone into doing what we want with subtle promises and with the idea that they’ll get something in return.

Bargaining. “If you do this for me, I’ll do that.” We often make silent bargains with people in our heads, and then get upset that the other person didn’t hold up his end of the bargain. Even if he didn’t know what the bargain was!

So how do you ask for what you want? Ask directly.

  1. Keep the focus on what you want. When I said this to Joelle, she said, “Well, Shawn isn’t going to want to…” She was already focused on him and his excuse and what she thinks he’ll want to do.
  2. Come up with what it is you want. (Remember: nobody can read our minds!) “Ideally, I  need someone to help me on Wednesday at 6 PM to pack up the living room.” Or, “I’d like someone to be there when the truck arrives.” Or, “I want someone to help me unpack on Thursday.”

Now, there’s a chance he might say no. (In Shawn’s case, a very good chance.) But remember: You can’t take care of yourself if you’re always focused on taking care of someone else. We need to think about what we want and then ask for it directly. In simple words.

It will either be a yes or a no.

If it’s a yes, then you know you can count on that person. And then, when he wants something, you’ll be able to say yes to him, too. There’s no guarantee you’ll get what you want just because you asked for it nicely.If it’s a no one or two times, that’s OK. But if the person is unwilling to help you, why are you hanging around? We don’t have to be Oliver Twist and hold out our plates and beg for more.

In the ideal relationship, people don’t keep accounts of what each did for the other person. A working relationship means that you will keep doing for the other and there’s an endless supply of good will that will never run out.

Tool For Tuesday: How to Ask for What You Want? Figure out what it is you want. Then ask simply and directly.

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About dianabletter

Diana Bletter is a writer living in northern Israel whose novel, A Remarkable Kindness, is forthcoming from HarperCollins in August. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Commentary, tabletmag, and other publications. Her first book, The Invisible Thread: A Portrait of Jewish American Women (with photographs by Lori Grinker) was nominated for a National Jewish Book Award.
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3 Responses to Tool For Tuesday: How Do You Ask For What You Want?

  1. Hmm…am I missing something, or are Seduction and Bargaining the same except for Seduction involving sex in the possible bargain? My sympathies to Joelle if this is what she has to do to get her boyfriend involved in helping her. Is this a bad match…or is there an outside chance that he’s reading your posts and playing against it? He sounds kind of Peter Pan-is, stuck as a boy.
    Sorry, I’m sure others will disagree, but this one really missed the mark for me.

    • dianabletter says:

      Marylin, maybe I didn’t make it clear that the OLD way of asking for things is using manipulation, helplessness and seduction (of any kind). The new way is asking directly. Sorry for the confusion! And yes, I’m hoping that Joelle will drop her boyfriend, because why stick around someone like that? Thanks for writing! diana

  2. Hi Diana,
    I’m glad you wrapped it up by saying, we don’t or shouldn’t keep accounts. We do things because we want to help. I hope Joelle gets the help she needs. 🙂
    Tracy

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