How to Ask for What You Want

Learning how to recognize your desires and deftly ask for what you want is an important skill. Otherwise, you may go through life living with what you’ll tolerate instead of getting what you really want.Start by taking the time to identify exactly what you want and craft your request. Then, make sure you ask in a timely, clear, confident, and respectful manner. Whether you get a “yes” or “no,” respond with grace and prepare for your next effort to ask for what you want!

Part 1

Thinking before Asking

  1. Figure out exactly what you want. Don’t rush into asking for what you think you want. Instead, think things through so you can ask for exactly what you know you want. Otherwise, you’re more likely to get a “no” or to end up getting something that doesn’t actually fulfill your desire.
    • For example, you might know that you’re overworked and overstressed, but what solution do you really want? Do you want a different schedule? A slight change in work responsibilities? An entirely different job?
    • If you’re not sure exactly what you want, talk to a trusted friend, mentor, or therapist for guidance. But remember that it’s ultimately up to you to determine what you want.
  2. Write down your request and your reasoning for it. Putting it down on paper helps to ensure that your desire is clear and reasonable. If you determine that you want a raise, for instance, write down “I want a raise because…” at the top of the page. Then, list several of your reasons why.
    • For example: “I have worked without a raise for 2 years;” “I have improved the efficiency of our entire department;” “I make less than co-workers with similar responsibilities;” “I’m now taking care of my ailing mother as well as my two kids.”
    • If you’re still not sure your request is clear or reasonable, show it to someone you trust and get their feedback.
  3. Feel confident, not guilty, about what you want. If your want is clear and reasonable, there’s no reason for you to feel guilty about wanting it and asking for it. Remind yourself that it’s okay to ask for things you want, not just those that you absolutely, desperately need.
    • You’re never guaranteed to get what you want, but you deserve to ask for what you want.
    • Build up your confidence with simple affirmations like “I’m worth it.”
  4. Take the person you’re asking into account. The more you know about the person you’ll be asking, and can anticipate how they’ll respond, the more likely you’ll be to make a successful request. Adjust the fine details, timing, and phrasing of your request to suit the person, but make sure you’re still asking for what you want.
    • For instance, if you know your boss tends to be in a better mood in the morning, don’t plan to ask for a raise at the end of the day.
    • Or, if you know your mother-in-law responds well to flattery, make sure to ramp up that element when deciding what you’ll say.
    • However, you need to ask for what you want, not for what you think they want you to want.
  5. Practice making your request in the mirror or to a friend. Just like giving a speech, reciting a poem, or singing a song, practicing beforehand will help you deliver your request better. Stand in front of a mirror, or record yourself making the request while using different phrasings and reasoning. Even better, practice in front of a trusted friend who can offer helpful feedback.

    • A friend might notice, for example, that you’re putting your head down when you make the actual request. You’ll appear more confident and convincing if you keep your head up and maintain eye contact with the other person.
  6. Pick the right time, but don’t wait for a perfect time. If your boss is a morning person, ask for your raise in the morning. But don’t keep putting off your request while waiting for the perfect morning, because it will never come. Once you’ve figured out what you want and why you want it, ask for it!

    • It’s easy to keep telling yourself “Today’s not a good day” or “I’ll ask next week when things will be less hectic.” Remind yourself that you know what you want, you deserve it, and it’s time to ask for it.
Part 2

Making Your Request

  1. Ask nicely and respectfully, but be direct and confident. You should ask with a smile, not a scowl, and be pleasant, not agitated. At the same time, though, don’t be so meek that your request feels halfhearted. “Respectfully assertive” might be the best way to describe the attitude your should take.
    • Don’t hedge or hesitate: “I was thinking that maybe I’d like for us to buy a boat.”
    • Instead, be direct: “Honey, I want us to buy a boat.”
    • “I want a raise and I want it now!” is too confrontational, while “Do you think it might be possible for me to get a small raise sometime, if you think I deserve it?” is too weak.
  2. Be as specific as possible in making your request. You’ve taken the time to make sure you know exactly what you want, so make sure they know too. Spell it out clearly, starting with the phrase “I want” or “I’d like.”

    • For example: “Mr. Green, I’d like to take over the vacant corner office.”
    • Use an “I” statement to make it clear that this is what you want. It’s easier for them to say “no” if you phrase it like this: “Would you consider giving me the vacant corner office?”
  3. Ask for more (or less) than you want only in certain business scenarios. Salespeople sometimes use the “foot in the door” technique, which involves asking for less than they want (to improve the odds of you saying “yes”) before moving on to what they really want. Or, they may try the “door in the face” method, which involves asking for more than they want, thereby making their follow-up (and real) request seem more reasonable.

    • However, you should skip these techniques when asking friends or family, and use them carefully in professional contexts.
    • People tend to expect (and therefore tolerate) salespeople using these techniques, but they may be resentful if a friend or significant other resorts to them.
    • If you want a raise at work, it makes sense to start with a higher (but not unreasonably higher) figure than what you really expect to be able to get. If you want a promotion, don’t ask to become regional manager when you really want to be assistant sales manager.
  4. Provide only one supporting justification for what you want. Even if you wrote down 10 good reasons why you want to buy a beach house, stick to telling your spouse just one of them. Running down a laundry list of reasons can overwhelm the other person and make them more resistant to agree to what you want.

    • For example, even if you think the beach house also makes a good investment and will be good for your mental health, you might choose the following as your best justification: “I want us to buy a beach house because it’ll be a place to bring our families together for years to come.”
    • Choose the justification that you feel is the strongest, unless you feel a different one will definitely be more effective on the other person.
    • If you only offer one justification this time, it makes it easier to “repackage” your request at another time, using a different justification, if you get a “no.”
  5. Make an ultimatum only if you can accept the consequences. Don’t make empty threats in a misguided attempt to get what you want. Otherwise, if the person says “no,” you’ll either have to follow through on something you don’t want or try to backtrack awkwardly.
    • For example, don’t say “I want a raise or I’ll quit” or “I want to schedule our wedding now or I’m breaking things off with you” unless you mean it.
    • If you repeatedly make ultimatums that you don’t actually intend to keep, other people will see you as manipulative and untrustworthy.
Part 3

Dealing with the Reply

  1. Listen closely to what they offer in response. Once you state your case for what you want, give the other person a fair chance to respond fully. Actively listen to what they have to say, and take a moment to evaluate how their response suits your request. If you need further clarification, ask for it respectfully.

    • For instance: “So, are you saying you’re willing to give me a 5 percent raise, but not 8 percent?” You can use this as a jumping off point for further negotiations.
  2. Offer thanks and appreciation if you get what you want. When you take the chance of asking for what you want, sometimes you get it! If you do, make sure to let the other person know how appreciative you are, even if you feel like you’re getting what you’ve earned or deserve.
    • Try something simple: “That’s great! Thanks so much. I really appreciate it.”
    • Or, go in a bit more detail: “Thank you, Mr. Jennings. I truly appreciate you taking the time to hear me out and agreeing to let me switch my Wednesday and Friday schedules.”
  3. Don’t take “no” personally or pout about it. As the song goes, “You can’t always get what you want.” Even if you make the most reasonable request in the most persuasive way, you may get a “no.” Don’t assume that the other person must hate you, or have a grudge against you. Just accept that you took your shot and it didn’t work out this time.
    • Instead of letting “no” put you into a funk, start preparing for your next opportunity to ask for what you want—and maintain the same confidence that you’ll succeed!
    • Thank the person anyway: “Thanks for considering my request, Mr. Jennings. I appreciate you giving me the time to make my case.”
  4. Start planning to ask again differently. A “no” today often doesn’t have to mean a “no” forever. You can, for example, try asking your boss for a raise, your girlfriend to move in, or your parents for a car in 3 or 6 months. Don’t ask the exact same thing in the exact same way, though.
    • When you’re ready to ask again, start the process over. Make sure you’re still clear on exactly what you want. Come up with your reasons why, and identify your best reason. Phrase your request a bit differently, but make sure you’re still being “respectfully assertive.”

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