How to Ask for What You Want

“Those who ask don’t get”. “If you don’t ask, you don’t get”. Such were the contradictory words of my step-father. So, um, which is it? He never did tell me, and soon after giving this and other “words of wisdom” he ran off with the neighbor. I guess he asked, and he got…

Why is asking for what we want, sometimes so difficult? Some of the reasons:

  1. We think we won’t get what we ask for
  2. We’re waiting for the “right” moment
  3. We’re not sure how to ask
  4. We think we don’t deserve what we want
  5. We’re afraid of what may come next after we get what we want

Let’s address number 1 of the list above: We think we won’t get what we ask for

Well, that certainly is a possibility but if we don’t ask, then we definitely won’t get. What’s really behind this excuse is more likely a fear of being told “No”. This word is scary because it could mean the end of our dreams, or we’ll feel like a failure, or we’ll feel that we can’t move forward – our hands are tied. The thing is, if we ask and get a “No”, it’s much easier to move forward, look for a solution, an alternative or ask someone else. Remaining in a holding pattern because you’re not asking for what you want is the best way to become stagnant in your life. Life must flow forward to be a happy and healthy one.

And what if you get a “Yes”? It may surprise you to know that many people are willing to help or just happy to say “Yes” because it may benefit them in some way you haven’t thought of. Always assume someone will say “Yes”.

People have asked for outrageous things just to see if they could get them. Guess what? They did. For example, an experiment where psychology students had to ask for a seat on a crowded New York subway (yikes!) managed to get a “Yes” 68% of the time (they weren’t sick, old or pregnant either). You see? You never know! I like to approach a big ask with the feeling of “Why not?” And actually repeating this (silently) to yourself if you feel nervous can bolster positivity.

Note: Make sure you’re specific with your ask. People need to know exactly what you’re asking, that it’s within their capability to give it to you, and like to feel that you really want their help.

Number 2: We’re waiting for the “right” moment

Really? Okay, so timing is important and there will be appropriate moments for asking for what you want, (there is a time for everything), however, there should be a reasonable time frame in which you should ask what you want to ask. Look for an appropriate time within a week or two.

Not a good time: At the end of the day (decision fatigue affects us all); during mealtime, when someone is hurrying somewhere; when someone is preparing for a trip or has a deadline looming; if someone is noticeably upset. One way to check is to simply say “I’d like to discuss something with you for a few minutes. Is this a good time?” If they say “No”, then ask “When would be a good time for you?” Be polite and considerate. Listen carefully to the response and how they say it. Always follow up with a considerate “Thank you for your time”.

Put yourself in the other person’s shoes: Why might they say “Yes”? Think of some good ways in which they could benefit from saying “Yes”. Be prepared. Make it easy for them to agree to your ask. The more you can make it a “no brainer” the less likely they are to be affected by other stressors or decision fatigue.

If you’ve been waiting for the “right” time, and it’s been months or years, you’re putting off asking due to another reason. What is your other reason? Have an honest chat with yourself. The fact that there is something that you really want but you’re delaying asking means that you’re putting something important on hold. Imagine going to buy yourself a cappuccino and you stand at the cafe’s register and say nothing. It’s like that. Now, imagine you want a cappuccino made with oat milk. If you ask and they say “No, sorry, we don’t make that here,” you now have a choice to either look for a place that does make it or get something else. If it helps, think of life as a big cafe.

Number 3. We’re not sure how to ask

It starts with opening the mouth and ends with the mouth closing (haha). But seriously, it’s more a problem of lacking self-assertion. By asking for what we want or need, we’re not being aggressive, selfish or demanding. When we don’t assert ourselves we allow others to take advantage of us or allow life to push us in directions we really didn’t want to go. Life doesn’t wait.

At times it may be tempting to swallow your feelings of frustration and placate yourself with the conciliation of being a good martyr, (ahem), this is delusional. Not asking for what you want or need doesn’t help anyone and in fact, may hinder others. Why? Because if what you want is in conflict with what someone else wants, you hinder their ability to face competition or for both of you to compromise. Also, it isn’t helpful to others since you’re allowing them to think that you’re okay with something that you’re not okay with, and they will act accordingly (perhaps do things that you don’t like). This, in turn, can build resentment in you which can also be directed back at others in various ways. In other words, you will show your resentment and frustration to others anyway, by being rude, impatient, doing or saying things behind someone’s back or even saying things to their face (and under your breath!) that you know will offend them. And this, all because you’re not getting to the heart of the issue and simply asking for what you want.

What if there isn’t a conflict of interest with what you’re asking for?

  • Put yourself in the other person’s shoes: Why might they say “Yes”? Think of some good ways in which they could benefit from saying “Yes”. Be prepared. Make it easy for them to agree to your ask. The more you can make it a “no brainer” the less likely they are to be affected by other stressors or decision fatigue.
  • Use the power of the pause: Ask in a clear and direct manner. then pause. Say nothing. Do not fill the awkward silence with any words or gestures. (Do continue to breathe.) The other person will feel a compulsion to respond in a more positive way. They won’t feel pressured by a stream of words or feel your desperate attempts to convince them of something (which subconsciously tells them that you expect a “No”).
  • Use your body (language): Go to them with confidence and conviction in your body and voice.

Number 4: We think we don’t deserve what we want

If a child wants ice-cream, before asking for it do they consider whether they deserve it or not? No! They let whoever has the power to buy them one, make that decision (and they will come up with as many reasons as they can to convince you to buy them one!). Don’t you think it’s far more fun to be like a child in this way? Don’t stop yourself before you even start!

Number 5: We’re afraid of what may come next after we get what we want

If A then B could lead to C, couldn’t they also lead to D if C somehow vanished? Yes. But then they could also lead to Z. You never know…That’s right. We don’t know most things for sure. It is prudent, however, to think about the consequences of your actions and to consider possible scenarios prior to taking action BUT if fear of the unknown prevents you from taking any action, then there’s a problem. I’ve seen people in a holding pattern for years, unable to move forward because they were paralyzed with fear about not only what might happen if they got what they asked for (a new job, an interview, a referral, money they were owed), but about what may happen months or even years after. This is not living a joyful life – this is living in fear of the unknown. Feel the fear, say “Hi”, then tell it to get lost.

Know Thyself

Why are you asking for what you’re asking for?

Have you heard the expression “Be careful what you ask for”? The reason is that sometimes what we think we want turns out to not be good for us. For example, you want to get a promotion as you believe it will lead to more money and therefore make you happier. But what if that promotion meant that you ended up working much longer hours, had to give up your exercise or recreation, gave you no time for friends or family and caused you stress that resulted in some form of illness? I do not exaggerate. This happens. Does this mean that you have to choose between having more money or a happier and healthier life? Not necessarily! You could work in a different company that pays more for the same hours you currently work or develop other sources of income such as investing or side hustles.

Think through what you want to ask for. If you decide that it really will enhance your life in a positive way, then go for it! Begin by praying (or focusing your thoughts on your higher intent “I really want this because…”), visualize getting the outcome that you want but prepare a “Plan B” in case the answer is “No”. Tell yourself that the Plan B is only because the road to the outcome you want – that you visualize – isn’t always straight…

Knowing you have a Plan B gives you more confidence to go and ask for something. The Plan B might be asking the person what you would need to do to get a “Yes”, (if what you want you can only get from that person); asking the person if they could recommend someone else who might give a “Yes”, (if you can get what you need from someone else in a similar position). Remember that even if they tell you “No”, circumstances can change and with that, people’s minds can change. Be respectful, however, if you’re too pushy you may ruin your chances. You will be remembered for being pushy and not any of the other wonderful characteristics you most definitely have!

Finally, do bear in mind that I have generalized this topic to cover as much as possible in a shortish post, and depending on what you’re asking for there would be some fine-tuning needed – specific ways in which to handle a particular situation.

If you have any questions about this post feel free to ASK!