It’s taken me years to realize that I have to ask for what I need.
If we don’t communicate our needs clearly, how can we expect to have them met?
Even our closest friends and family members can’t read our mind, no matter how long they’ve known us. This should have been clear to me when I visited a local tent city just outside Seattle last year. Assuming I knew exactly what the community needed, I showed up with a box full of supplies, only to find out they already had a giant tent full of the very same things.
I hadn’t asked them what they needed.
Wouldn’t life be so much easier if we invited others to tell us what they need, and also clearly communicated what we need?
Animals ask for what they need with little prompting – especially my 9-pound dachshund, Zoey. If she’s hungry, she lets us know. If she wants to go outside, she whines until we let her out. And if she wants to play, she makes certain we can’t ignore her obnoxious torpedo runs through the house. She does what is necessary to get our attention, and eventually she gets what she wants. She’s a tough negotiator and doesn’t take no for an answer.
Until my mid-thirties, I hadn’t ever really considered the prospect of asking. As silly as that sounds, I was of the belief that what I needed should be obvious, especially to those who knew me well, and when I didn’t get what I needed I’d resort to passive aggressive ugliness. As painful as that is to admit, it’s the truth. (Dog strategies don’t seem to work as well for humans, it turns out.)
But then I started experimenting with asking.
I learned how to successfully ask for a fair salary when negotiating job offers. I learned to ask my employees to perform specific tasks. And I learned to ask for what I needed in my personal relationships as well.
My biggest lesson so far has been that asking is a much better approach than telling, demanding, or expecting. Those strategies usually lead to disappointment. But when we have open and honest conversations about our needs – as difficult as that may be – we get what we need more often than not.
Asking takes practice, a willingness to admit we need something from others, and a great deal of vulnerability. We like to believe we can do it all, but we can’t.
My self-care practice for the day was to openly express my needs in a personal relationship. It was awkward and emotionally charged and messy. But I asked anyway.
And while I know there will be more uncomfortable conversations to come, and that it will take time to adjust my behaviors and expectations, I have to say…it was a huge relief to let go of the negative emotions I’ve been carrying.
What has been your experience with asking for what you need?