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How to Effortlessly Get Your Way

It's not manipulation; it's a skill.

Key points

  • Some people avoid asking for what they want because they're afraid of looking selfish, which only ensures they won't get their needs met.
  • Asking for what one wants is a skill that can be learned.
  • To get someone to do something, reinforce the person's efforts to make it more likely he or she will respect the request.
Adam Winger/Unsplash
Source: Adam Winger/Unsplash

The idea of getting what you want gets a bad reputation. Some people worry it’s selfish to ask for what you need. The reality is, other people can’t read minds. We need to ask for things in order to get our needs met. It isn’t selfish; it’s necessary.

It’s very hard to ask for what you need and can be a daunting task. But there’s good news — asking for what you need and getting what you want from others is a skill that anyone can learn. With a little practice, you can make requests in a way that increases the likelihood of getting what you want. Who wouldn’t want that?

Here’s a way to make requests that are more likely to get you what you want.

Step 1: Acknowledge the situation

Briefly give context to the situation. This step should only take a sentence or two. Describe what is going on in brief, descriptive terms that don’t judge.

Instead of saying “You never take the trash out,” say “I noticed the trash looks full.” Avoid blaming the person and be as descriptive as possible.

Step 2: Make the ask

Ask for what you need. State your request directly and clearly. Specify a timeframe if needed.

For example, “I would really like it if you could take out the trash today.”

Step 3: Empathize and reinforce

Note how it may be difficult for the other person to do what you ask. This shows that you’re giving thought to the other person and not just making demands of them. Lastly, reinforce their efforts in some way — state how it benefits them or why it would be good for them to fulfill your request.

Say, “I know it’s annoying to take out the trash, and I think we will both feel better when it’s done because we won’t have to keep pushing the garbage down to make room in the bin.”

Step 4: Problem solve alternatives

Sometimes the other person just can’t complete the request. Or they may truly despise taking out the trash, and would rather do something else. This step is a way to negotiate. Be sure to ask them if they can’t help with your request, if there is something else they can do instead. This promotes creativity and allows you to come closer to meeting your needs.

For example, you can say, “If you don’t want to take out the trash, is there a house chore you’d rather do instead?”

You can even offer to help them out. “If you take out the trash, I can get a new bag and put it in the bin.”

Use an appropriate demeanor throughout

How you say the message is just as important as what you say. Even if you follow these steps but yell at the person, roll your eyes, name-call, or use sarcasm, your request will fall flat and maybe even make the situation worse. Follow these steps to deliver your request in a skillful way.

Be direct without being hostile. Use a calm tone of voice with an open posture. Make gentle eye contact and convey warmth by expressing care/concern. Clearly ask for what you want without apologizing, and stick to the goal, which is your request. Try not to get sidetracked from the topic at hand. Repeat your request if needed.

Go get what you want

This method has all the key ingredients of a successful request. Throughout your request, be descriptive of the situation and ask for what you want clearly and directly. Empathize with the person and discuss how you’ll reinforce their efforts or why it will be helpful. Remember to keep a calm and warm demeanor throughout your request, and stay focused on the task.

Keep in mind that a request doesn’t have to be fulfilled perfectly to be “successful.” It can feel amazing to assert your needs, even if you don’t get what you want. You can also negotiate with the person, and get part of the request fulfilled or get something else that will be helpful. Either way, you win.