How To Ask For What You Want & Be More Assertive
Asserting ourselves can be hard. Like, really hard. It's why knowing some keys to asking for what you really want can be amazingly helpful in navigating those sometimes awkward situations.
I personally find it incredibly difficult to ask for things — especially at work — even when I technically think the request is completely fair. Formally requesting something not only makes me fear a potential rejection, but I can spend hours in my own head, wondering how the ask will make me "seem." Will my boss think I'm greedy? Presumptuous? Will it irritate them?
According to a piece on PsychCentral, psychotherapist Joyce Marter, LCPC, said, “Assertiveness involves advocating for yourself in a way that is positive and proactive." In the same article, clinical psychologist Randy Patterson and author of the book, The Assertiveness Workbook: How to Express Your Ideas and Stand Up for Yourself at Work and in Relationships, noted that being assertive is completely different from being aggressive, and merely means that we are being present, as opposed to passive, in a relationship — no matter what that relationship may be.
If you're like me and have major trouble asking for things or even just being assertive in a healthy and beneficial way, here are seven tips on how to ask for what you want that you should always keep in mind:
1. Let Go Of Guilt
In the same PsychCentral article, Marter stressed to let go of your guilt when making a request, especially if you're typically a people-pleaser who dislikes ever feeling like you're inconveniencing anyone. Marter also said to always remind yourself that asking for things is not greedy, and that, “assertive behavior that involves advocating for oneself in a way that is respectful of others is not wrong — it is healthy self-care."
2. Start Small
Patterson suggested to start small with the ways you're assertive, like asking for a different table at a restaurant, in order to get used to how it feels and to help you realize that nothing bad will happen when you voice your needs. Once you start doing this more often in these smaller-stakes situations, you'll get more and more comfortable asking for what you want in other contexts.
3. Don't Assume Others Are Mind Readers
In an article for Forbes about asking for what you want, leadership writer Margie Warrell said to never assume others are mind readers. "We often assume our spouses, bosses, work colleagues and even our good friends can read our minds. So when they don’t act as we’d like, we wind up hurt and upset. For any relationship to thrive, both parties have to take responsibility for clearly communicating their needs," Warrell said. When we remember this, it can give us all the more motivation to vocalize what we're thinking.
4. Be Aware Of The Person You're Asking
In a Psychology Today piece by psychologist Susan Krauss Whitbourne, Whitbourne wrote to be conscious of the person we are asking and their needs, as opposed to solely focusing on what we want out of a situation. By putting yourself in the other person's shoes, you'll potentially be able to frame your request in a way that is also beneficial to the other person, increasing the likelihood you'll get a positive answer. She also noted to always be conscious of if the other person seems "troubled, preoccupied, or stressed," as choosing that moment to ask means "you’re stacking the deck against having that person grant your request by making it right then and there."
However, Whitbourne also stressed that if you find yourself putting off the request for weeks on end because the timing never seems right, "perhaps it’s your own feelings of inadequacy or insecurity that are preventing you from stepping forward."
5. Be Honest
Whitbourne also noted that when we ask for one thing with the real intention of asking for something else, the person we're asking can actually feel resentful towards us (for example, asking to borrow someone's car for an hour, when you really need it for the day). "Express honestly what you need and why you need it, and assure the other person that there won’t be any rule changes down the road," Whitbourne said.
6. Ask And You Shall Receive... But You Have To Ask
In an article for Women's Health on how to make the "big asks," New York Times best-selling author Andrea Buchanan stressed that if we want something, we have to ask for it and risk not getting it, otherwise the chance of not getting it is definitely 100 percent. She wrote that she "shuddered to think" of the things she might not have in life if she hadn't stuck her neck out, from jobs, to raises, to simply getting someone's autograph.
7. Imagine The Worst Possible Outcome
Buchanan also recommended taking a deep breath when you're afraid to ask for something and imagining the worst possible outcome. "Usually, it's simply getting a no, which is not exactly life threatening," she said. I used this tactic when asking for my first raise, and it definitely helped. If worst came to worst, my boss would politely tell me no, I'd thank her for her time, and at the end of the day, I'd still have a job that I was generally pretty happy to go to every day (plus, I got the raise).
So many of us struggle with the simple task of vocalizing what we really want. And while it can be incredibly frustrating, the good news is it's a skill we can improve and finesse over time. Just start small and remember that the worst that can happen isn't even all that bad.