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I often have trouble asking for what I want. The thought of asking for something from someone else induces a sense of fear and anxiousness. The truth is, all of us at some point in our lives experience these emotions when we need to ask for something. Whether asking for an extra scoop of ice cream or requesting a pay raise, our brains are wired to signal an alert the moment we consider putting ourselves out there and asking for what we want.
The great news is that we can learn how to override our brain’s stress alerts and skillfully ask others for what we want. The four steps below come from Dialectic Behavior Therapy’s (DBT) module on Interpersonal Effectiveness. In this module, people learn how to ask for what they want while reducing upfront fear, helping others take the request seriously, and guiding the interaction to a successful outcome.
Step 1: DESCRIBE the facts of the situation.
The person you are talking to is likely not aware of your point of view or the details leading to your request. When you start with facts, you make sure to set the stage for the request. You also help your brain stay focused and reduce any judgments or unhelpful self-criticism.
As an example, the following steps show how we can ask for help cleaning up around the house. Instead of avoiding the issue or getting frustrated when another person does not just jump in and help, we can start by describing the facts. For example: “We have been in this house every day the last two weeks. There are several things that need to be cleaned. This weekend we have a couple of hours when we do not have anything else planned.”
Step 2: EXPRESS how you feel using “I” statements.
An “I” statement lets you share your feelings in an accountable way and prevents the other person from going into defense mode.
Continuing our example: “I feel stressed out by how this place looks and I feel a little overwhelmed at the thought of cleaning it up alone. I also feel hopeful that if we all pitch in and do a little it will take less time.”
Step 3: ASK for what you want or need.
In this step, make a clear and confident request. You do not need to hesitate or exaggerate. Unclear requests and unstated expectations are major sources of contention in relationships. Remember, no one can read your mind, and the clearer you can be the more likely it is you will get what you want.
Continuing our example: “I want us to clean the kitchen, living room, and bedrooms from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m., this Saturday morning. We will each have an assignment and share the work.”
Step 4: REINFORCE the ask with the benefits for the other person (and yourself).
This is when you want to clearly say what good will happen, and what bad can be avoided if the other person grants your request. Relationships are built on reciprocity. Stating the benefits up front awakens the reward center in the brain and reminds the person something is in it for them. Likewise, when you think of the benefits, your brain’s reward center also activates and you become more confident to make the ask.
Continuing our example: “By doing everything in these two hours, you won’t be bothered by me asking over and over, and we will have more time the rest of the weekend to do fun stuff together.”
These first four steps are the foundation of the DEAR MAN skill. Through individual and group DBT sessions at The Summit Counseling Center, you can learn additional ways to make nearly any difficult conversation a little easier. You can also learn how to maintain relationships and keep your self-respect when asking for what you want does not go smoothly. Our goal through DBT is to give clients the skills that help them reduce arguments, head off relationship problems before they start, and repair relationships when needed.
To learn more about DBT, or to inquire about our next set of groups for adults, as well as adolescents and parents, contact the Summit Counseling Center at 678-893-5300.