Have you ever gotten frustrated or angry because you keep asking for the same thing without the desired results? How about getting a reaction from your significant other, children, or coworkers that’s defensive and seems as if they “don’t get it?” In my case, I forgot to ask for what I wanted because I was busy “people pleasing” and taking care of everyone else’s needs first. There were times I didn’t even know what I needed or how to ask for it, other than announcing I was stressed and exhausted. And it got me nowhere.
The good news is there’s a way to ask for what we want that’s effective. It became a game changer in my relationships at home and work, as well as for my physical, mental, and emotional well-being. Here’s the 4-step formula:
1. MAKE OBJECTIVE OBSERVATIONS
Observe what’s happening in the moment without judgment, or in other words, “just the facts!” For example, Johnny leaves his clothes on the floor instead of putting them in the hamper, even though you’ve asked him not to do that many times. We often go into a story about how Johnny is inconsiderate, defiant, and disrespectful. Johnny may be acting this way for many reasons, none which has to do with your evaluation. When you go into your “stinking thinking” neither Johnny nor you will have a satisfying outcome. Johnny may eventually pick up his clothes, but both of you are “grumbling.”
2. IDENTIFY YOUR FEELINGS
It’s hard to ask for what we need when we don’t understand our feelings. One reason is we confuse our thoughts with our feelings and blame the other person, which elicits a defensive reaction. Their actions may be the stimulus, but we are responsible for how we choose to think, feel, and respond. For example, when Johnny leaves his clothes on the floor the thought may be, “Johnny, I feel you are irresponsible and that you should know better.” What you’re really feeling is “irritated” or “aggravated.” So next time say, “I’m feeling aggravated when the clothes are on the floor.” A clue that it’s a thought/opinion rather than your feeling is when you use words such as “that,” “like” and “as if.” Also, avoid using names or nouns – “I feel that Johnny is irresponsible.”
3. KNOW YOUR NEEDS
Take responsibility for the needs behind your feelings without blame, shame or guilt. When we express our needs through evaluations, others usually hear criticism. The more directly we can connect our feelings to our needs, the greater chance of a compassionate response that meets everyone’s needs. “I’m aggravated when you leave your clothes on the floor because I’m tired and need to finish the laundry.”
4. MAKE A POSITIVE REQUEST
Our tendency is to ask for what we don’t want; “Johnny, don’t leave your clothes on the floor.” Instead, ask for what you do want because you’re more likely to get it. Avoid making demands that limit the other person’s options to either submission or rebellion. Be honest with yourself about your real intention. And then be specific about your request. Try to add a benefit for the other person, too. For example, “Johnny, please pick up your clothes from the floor and put them in the hamper so you can play your video game without me interrupting you.” Remember to actively listen to their feelings and express appreciation when the request is met.
We may not always get the response we want. Our choices are then to try again later, use different wording, ask for feedback about their rationale, or let it go. I let go with my “Johnny” by closing his bedroom door and just walking by. He was then responsible for handling his own clothes. I stopped nagging my son, and we had a better relationship.
Reference: Rosenberg, Marshall B., Ph.D., “Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life”