How to Make Requests with Confidence
Making direct and clear requests of others likely is not something that you have seen modeled much. Rather, requests are often made in an indirect or vague way. This usually is an attempt to avoid being seen as selfish or as a burden to others. When these indirect or vague requests fail to get a response, they might be expressed through protest behaviors, complaints, or demands. This is frustrating and painful for all involved.
Making a direct and specific request opens a dialogue and supports collaboration and mutuality. It can be challenging to ask for what you want directly and also to do it in a way that creates connection. This process gets easier when you begin by grounding yourself in the experience of having that need met. When you take time to reflect on situations in which that need was met, you access an expansive state and a sense of confidence regarding the need. In addition, you remind yourself of exactly how that need has been met in the past; this helps you shape a request in the present. An important part of this reflection exercise is to review any time the need was met and not limit your reflection to a particular person or context.
When you struggle to make requests, you might follow a common progression: First, your “request” might contain accusations, interpretations, and stories of past events. Next, you might try to use the specific syntax of Mindful Compassionate Dialogue with varying levels of exactness. Finally, you are able to slow the process down and begin a dialogue with the intention to connect and a confidence that your needs matter and can be met.
Let's look at one short example of this progression from a Gem reader. I'll call him Rob.
Rob says he has difficulty sharing his feelings and needs. He longs to be seen and celebrated. He wants his partner, Chris, to ask him more questions about his experiences and to initiate conversations about their relationship as often as he does.
Coming from the hurt of his unmet need around being seen, Rob tries to express his feelings and needs and make a request:
"I need as much attention as I give you. I feel left out and unattended to and uncared for. I need you to take as much interest in my life as I take in yours. I feel angry. It's like I am not important to you."
In this example, Rob has attempted to communicate his feelings, needs, and requests. In reality, he mostly expresses accusations, interpretations, and justifications for why he deserves more attention. Tragically, he has likely triggered guilt, defensiveness, and disconnect in Chris.
If Rob followed the syntax of Mindful Compassionate Dialogue as best he could, it might sound like this:
"When I notice that at dinner last night we talked about your day for 30 minutes and my day for 10, I have a thought that I’m not important to you. I feel sad and disappointed because I long to be seen and heard. Would you be willing to spend the first half of dinner tonight hearing about my day?"
This kind of expression will increase the chances of Rob being heard, yet there is something missing and Rob's heart is not fully expressed.
Getting grounded in his needs, Rob takes a few minutes before speaking to recall times when his need has been met in any context. He lets go of it being about his partner and the current circumstances for the moment. To do this, Rob can ask himself questions like, "When have I had the experience of being seen fully? What does it feel like in my heart and body?" Rob then takes a few minutes to notice the feelings and sensations that come up. Having connected more fully to his needs and a felt sense of the met need, Rob might begin the dialogue like this:
"Chris, I would like to share something and make a request. Do you have a few minutes to listen? (Chris agrees). I notice I feel some sadness because I long to be seen; and, at the same time, I feel excited when I think about sharing more of who I am with you. I have so much that I want to share—what I'm excited about, what's hard for me, what I’m learning. Chris, can you tell me what you're getting from what I'm saying?"
Caring about the connection, Rob starts the conversation by sharing a little at first and then checking to see if Chris is understanding. Rob is able to include both his sadness when the need is unmet and the excitement of meeting the need. Excitement about meeting a need implies confidence and trust about the two of them moving forward together.
When you create this level of connection with your own needs, the other person gets to experience the aliveness of your need rather than only what's lacking. From a connection to the aliveness of the needs a natural giving from the heart arises.
When you are able to share your needs and requests from a place of confidence, you can dissolve resentment as you drop the idea that the other person is wrong or should be doing something differently. Instead, you open a collaborative dialogue and offer an invitation to find strategies that work for both of you.
This week, choose one situation in which to slow yourself down before making a request. Take time to connect fully with an experience in which your need was met. Notice how your request feels and sounds different from this place of aliveness.