Part 2: How To Ask For What You Want Without Causing Conflict

My last blog post was about the reasons you aren’t asking for what you want. The second of this two-part post will give you tips for asking for what you want in a way that encourages cooperation and agreement from the person you are making your request to.

Asserting your needs and desires in an uncontrolled and unskilled way can sometimes be expressed as an angry outburst, bursting into tears out of frustration or even using the silent treatment. When unintentionally used as a means to communicate, this could lead to conflict, either because the other person grasps the emotion but not exactly what you are lacking or trying to ask for, or because this way of communicating can be interpreted as manipulation, madness, childishness or weakness.

You may fear that clearly and calmly asking for what you want from your partner, friends or employer, might upset them. That could lead to an outright rejection of you, their disapproval and also conflict. This perception can be difficult and uncomfortable to ignore but by becoming aware of what holds you back and learning ways to communicate with honesty and empathy for yourself and others, you can prevent conflict from brewing or even escalating.

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Key Skills

I’ve written already about the differences between assertive, aggressive and non-assertive communication. In short, here are the differences:

When you are aggressive, you attempt to control others. When you are non-assertive (i.e. passive), others will control you. When you are assertive, you control yourself.

 The middle road here is assertiveness, which is a way of expressing your needs and wants by acknowledging your feelings and boundaries whilst also respecting those of the other person. It requires honesty and empathy as well as politeness. It also requires a great deal of self-restraint and emotional intelligence.

It’s a good idea to think about what you want and to prepare how you will communicate before the conversation. You can never predict somebody’s reaction to what you say but you can identify what you want and how you will say it. This is also useful if you are discussing a particularly emotional subject which you feel strongly about. As you practice, communicating assertively will become second nature but preparation is always beneficial, regardless of your abilities or experience.

Tips 1 : Acknowledge Your Emotions

Do this either before (i.e. to yourself) or during the conversation. Hiding your emotions or repressing them will only make you feel even more uncomfortable and it may be obvious to the other person. Here’s how you might phrase this:

“I feel nervous about asking you for something that I want to change because it’s quite a significant change and it’s also really important to me.”

“I feel uncomfortable about making this request because I get the impression that you might not agree with me.”

“I feel worried about my request for better communication because I don’t want you to interpret that as an insult. I just want our relationship to improve and I think this can be possible by…. “

Tip 2: Don’t Start The Blame Game

A request for something that you want can appear to sound like you are unhappy or unsatisfied with the other person and that it is their fault. That might be the case but blaming them for something that is lacking is unlikely to encourage cooperation.

A phrase such as:

“I’m sick of your lack of support. You make me so angry when you undermine me in front of colleagues and I’m not going to take this anymore!”

Can be changed into:

“I feel undermined when my work is discussed openly with colleagues.  I noticed that this occurred in two separate meetings last week.  This is frustrating for me because I want your support and I would like to be able to discuss any work-related challenges with openness and trust. What I would like from you is an agreement to respect my need for discretion about my concerns and more constructive advice.”

Tip 3: Be Precise  

State what you feel (not that somebody makes you feel something which implies blame). State clearly, exactly what you want. If you have noticed behaviour that you do not like, provide examples of it. There is nothing wrong with direct, precise communication when it is done politely and with respect.

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Tip 4: Tackle the reaction with respect and empathy

It is possible that the other person might be dismissive about a concern of yours or disagree that it is a problem. Not only is this disrespectful but it’s a sure way to lead to conflict in one form or another. Here’s how to tackle this type of unhelpful response:

“I can see that you feel irritated by my request because you disagree that it is a problem. It is essential for me to get across to you that I feel frustrated and unacknowledged by the decision to move my accounts to my colleague, despite the expertise I have in dealing with those clients. I would like those accounts to be returned to me and in the future, I would also like for us to discuss any concerns that you have about my work before any similar decisions are made.”

The key is to point out your own emotions and that you have clocked the emotional response of the other person as well as the reason for it. You might not get this right the first time, but don’t worry, you will be corrected if necessary, by the other person.

As always, I’d love to know what you think and if you have any more tips, please leave a comment!

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