How-To: Navigate Asking & Make a Request
Making a request or asking for something you want or need can be an especially intimidating social situation. Learn this microskill to navigate these uncomfortable but necessary conversations.
"I Didn't Ask For the Help I Needed"
In my work coaching, one of the most common reflections I hear from clients early on in our coaching relationship is a personal story of shame around asking for help. This can be a fear of the appearance of needing help or admitting to oneself they are in a place of needing to accept help from others. Not knowing how to get help, feeling to proud to reach out, feeling too depressed to reach out, overwhelm, burnout, fear of rejection, fear of judgement, fear of disapproval, low-self esteem and self-doubt can all be at play when we need to reach out and lean on others.
Clear is Kind
For many the phrase, "clear is kind, unclear is unkind" is a good reminder that when we need or want to make a request from someone it is both helpful and kind to be as clear as you can about what you are asking for. If you come from a family culture where asking (questions or requests) wasn't encouraged or allowed, as an adult it can be a struggle to know how to navigate these scenarios in a comfortable, confident way.
Ask Cultures vs Guess Cultures
Originally coined in 2007 by blogger Andrea Donderi, the terms "Ask Culture" and "Guess Culture" describe approaches to communication and decision-making that are observed in different societies, groups, and families.
In Ask Cultures people are more direct and explicit in their communication. Ask people are not shy when it comes to asking for their wants and needs to be met. They are comfortable working in a space of collaboration and community. Their yes means yes, and no means no. In general, people from ask cultures are more comfortable saying "no" and declining requests made of them by others. By the same token, these people are also used to receiving direct answers and are less likely to misread intentions due to directness or bluntness.
In Guess Cultures people are more indirect and implicit in their communication. Guess culture people leave hints and subtle clues about their wants and needs in hopes of receiving an offer of support so that they will not need to make a direct request at all. Nudging and leading are ways guess people signal to others about their needs and wants. They are more hesitant to say "no" when others make a request of them and they may decline requests in round-about or ambiguous ways.
Thinking about your own communication style, are you from an Ask Culture, Guess Culture or does it change depending on the context and environment? There is no right or wrong way to communicate, understanding these differences in style can help you adapt your approach to the people you are interacting with.
It is important to note that these descriptions of Ask Culture and Guess Culture are large generalizations. There are many subtle and vast differences between cultures, societies, families and individuals. Direct and indirect communication and social harmony have been studied for decades but these catchy names help us to contain this complex idea in easily understandable language. By doing so we can reflect on our own origins and behaviors which allows us to move forward with greater awareness and greater courage to try new approaches.
Don't Lead With "No"
If you are approaching making your request with any sliver of doubt, it is all too easy to unconsciously frame your requests in a perfect setup for failure. It sounds counterintuitive but it happens all the time! This can sound like:
"You can totally say no, I was just wondering if...
"This is not important at all but...
"It's okay if you can't, but I was hoping...
Self-deprecation and anticipating rejection may feel like safe behaviors to you but they do not help you successfully make the asks you need to be functional in work, school, and life. We all need to ask others for something, life is a group effort!
Making requests can be challenging as expressing your needs and desires with fear of rejection or judgement is a vulnerable and intimidating experience. However, learning to make requests and ask for what you want is an important social skill that can greatly improve your relationships and help you achieve your goals.
Frame Your Request:
Instead of walking into a request expecting rejection, frame it for success. Clarify your intentions and be direct about your wants or needs by using the, "I don't want, I do want" container. By framing your requests in this way you can be both clear and direct about what it is you want while also being clear about your intentions. Both ask and guess people can equally benefit by utilizing this microskill and communication strategy.
I don't want... to interrupt what you're doing but
I do want... to connect with you and ask how the project is coming along. When is a good time for you to talk?
I don't want... you to misunderstand me but
I do want... to give you some feedback about the situation. Are you open to it?
I don't want... to upset you but
I do want... to discuss what happened yesterday. That wasn't okay with me.
I know it's the busy season and I don't want... to add more to your plate if you don't have capacity but
I do want... you to participate and be included in the retreat. You'll be such an amazing addition!
By utilizing this communication tool you can navigate these social situations with more confidence and ease leading you to higher achievement, success, and fulfillment.
If you are the parent of a teenager, if you are in a romantic partnership, if you work in a professional setting with colleagues, you're welcome! This is one of the simplest and most powerful tools to transform your relationships and clearly communicate with your stakeholders.
Before you go!!
My Hot Takes for Making Requests:
Be specific: About what you need and why it is important to you. Vagueness leads to miscommunication and misunderstandings.
Use "I" statements: Take ownership of your feelings and speak from your own experience and perspective. This helps put people at ease and not get defensive.
Consider the other's perspective: What may be going on for them? What needs or concerns might they have? Use empathy and take this into consideration.
Be willing to compromise: We definitely don't always get what we want. Show flexibility and a willingness to find a solution that works for everyone.
Listen: Listening is crucial to good communication. When your hopes or wants are tied up in your request, it is important to remember to take the time to listen to feedback and input from the other person.
Follow up: Make sure that you have been understood correctly and that the other person is clear on what steps they need to take to follow up with you in a satisfactory way. Good communication is key to avoiding misunderstanding or let down.