Why not ask for what you want?

You’d be amazed how many opportunities open up when you ask for what you want. Often, asking is all we have to do, but many of us don’t bother.

Why don’t more people ask for what they want more often? There are six main reasons:

Six reasons why people don’t ask for what they want

  1.  It doesn’t occur to them. E.g. many shops and businesses are only too happy to give a discount for cash if you ask – but they won’t offer unprompted.
  1. Mistaken beliefs, e.g. that it’s not polite, that others ‘should’ know what you want, asking is a sign of weakness, it puts other people out, it’s demeaning, embarrassing etc.
  1. False pride, e.g. some people (usually male!) would rather drive round in circles than ask a stranger for directions. ‘Real ‘men are supposed to be self-sufficient and would look foolish asking. The irony is, of course, people love to be asked for help – it makes them feel useful and valued.
  1. Fear: of being refused, looking stupid, of rejection, humiliation, the other person becoming angry. Sometimes there is an explanation for these feelings. Perhaps they’ve had a bad experience in the past – but not always.

If you ever feel this way, ask yourself: ‘ What’s the worst that could happen? Could I handle it?  (tell yourself – ‘yes!’). What’s the best way to ask?

  1. Low self-esteem: People with low self-esteem don’t feel worthy to receive. Good askers know they deserve the best. They find out what’s possible and what they’re entitled to, and simply refuse to settle for less.
  1. Not knowing how to ask: This won’t be a problem for you if you take on board the next few paragraphs!

How to ask for what you want

  • Make sure you have their full attention.
  • Ask the right person – someone who is able to grant your request.
  • Choose the right time and place. This can be crucial. Choose a time and place where you’re most likely to succeed.
  •  Ask with positive expectations. Believe without question that you’ll get it and as if it were impossible to fail.
  • Know what you want. Focus your mind on it. Mentally picture/sense yourself getting it.
  • Mentally rehearse. Work out what you’re going to say, anticipate their reaction and work out a strategy in advance.
  • Be straightforward and specific. Don’t waffle. If you want more, how much more? If you need help, what kind of help? From whom?
  • Don’t apologise. Avoid phrases like: ‘I’m afraid’ and ‘I’m sorry but…’ These immediately undermine your position.
  • Consider softening your request. This may appear to contradict the previous point; however there may be occasions when it is best to soften your request, e.g. ‘I realise this is inconvenient, but I would like…’ If you choose to soften a request it is important that your voice and non-verbals express your intent
  • Think of the benefits to the other person – and if it helps your case, point them out.
  • Don’t be sidetracked. If necessary repeat the request as many times as necessary. ‘Let me say it again….’ ‘You may not have heard me but…’ But the point is…’
  • If this doesn’t work, ask for the reason for their refusal. Bear in mind that the explanation given at first may not be the real reason, so keep asking ‘Why?’ ‘Why not?’
  • If this still doesn’t work, try showing that you understand the other person’s point of view before repeating the request.

I realise that… but I still want you to…

  • If you still don’t get what you want, reflect on the experience, go back to first principles and apply what you learned next time.
  • Be gracious. Leave the other person with a good feeling whatever the outcome.

Three more ways to ask for what you want

  1. Ask for information. Sometimes it is better to ask for information rather than make a demand. E.g. ‘What would it take for… (state your requirement)?’ ‘What do you normally do in these circumstances?
  1. Pacing and leading. Pacing and leading is asking a series of questions (or making statements) that lead to ‘yes’. This is an advanced technique that needs practice, but is very effective when done subtly.  One approach is to finish your sentences with phrases such as ‘Don’t you agree?’ Give a warm smile, a little eye contact and a nod of the head.

Children are very clever at this. Take, for example, a young boy asking his mother to buy him a new toy. After this build-up, most parents would find it hard to refuse!

‘You love me, don’t you Mummy?’

‘Of course I do darling.’

‘You’d rather I didn’t spend all my time watching TV, wouldn’t you?’

‘That’s right.’

‘You had one like that when you were a girl, didn’t you Mummy?’

‘Yes, I did.’

‘They’re only £4.50. That’s cheap, isn’t it?’


‘Will you buy me one?

  1. Make a suggestion

‘May I make a suggestion…’ is an excellent way of making a request indirectly. It wins people over because it is empathic and respectful.

You’re now ready to use these techniques to ask for what you want so practise, practise, practise, and if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again!

©David L. Preston, 20.6.2016

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