A new client recently came to me seeking support overcoming overwhelm with their workload. Like many of my clients, they are a high-achiever. They’ve worked so hard that they’ve burnt out. They’re not sure if they should find a new work path or learn to approach their work in a more sustainable way.

To get clear about what’s next, they need to have some courageous conversations— with their supervisor at work, with their partner at home, with fellow organizers in a community group they’re a part of.

They need to ask other people to share some of the responsibilities they’ve been carrying.

However, they’re worried that the conversations won’t go well, and they want to do the best they possibly can with making these requests.

Perhaps you’re in a similar situation. You need to ask someone in your life for support, and you’re nervous. 

So how do you maximize your chances of success when making an important request?

In the last blog article—Ten Steps to Making Skillful Requests (Part One)—we discussed why making requests is such an important step to getting clear about what’s next in your work-life and why it can be scary. We also discussed the first two steps—clarifying your intention and using a soft start-up.

In the rest of this article, we’ll explore the remaining steps to making skillful requests.

Before you read further, I invite you to grab your journal, bring to mind a request you need to make, and write it down at the top of a sheet of paper. Then, read each of the steps, thinking about how you might apply them to the conversation you need to have.

Let’s go!

Step Three: Start with the bare bones. We minimize the odds of damaging a relationship and maximize the odds that others will hear us when we stick to the facts rather than getting wrapped up in stories about what’s happening.

Rather than voicing assumptions, evaluations, theories about why the other person is doing what they’re doing, or generalizations (which often start with you always or you never), stick to the facts. For example, if you’ve been working late for several weeks and want to ask your supervisor for more reasonable hours, the facts might sound like, “For the past month, I worked until 9pm three out of five nights per week, and then I worked several hours on Saturday, too.”

Ask yourself now, and write down your response: What are the bare-bone facts of the situation that I can perceive?

Step Four: Share what you feel and need. 

For example, in the conversation with your boss, your feelings might sound like this:

  • I feel drained from working so hard.
  • I feel guilty about not spending time with my family.
  • I feel stressed that I’m not getting all my work done even though I’m working long hours.

Your needs might sound like this:

  • I need more time with my family and for myself. 
  • I need to feel like I’m making a contribution without always falling behind.

Ask yourself now:

  1. What am I feeling?
  2. What do I need?

Step Five: Be aware of your stories.

It is essential to separate what you’re thinking (the story you’re telling yourself about what’s happening) from the bare bones of the situation, what you feel and what you need. Stories sound like, “I feel like you’re mean to me,” or “I feel like you’re abandoning me,” or “I feel accused.”

In most work situations, it is unhelpful to share your story. If you have a close relationship with someone and can take full responsibility for your story, you might share the story you’re telling yourself by saying—I’m telling myself this story that you’re thinking (xyz) about me. I know these are my thoughts and that this isn’t necessarily true. But I want you to know what’s going on within me.

That said, avoid criticism and contempt. Speaking your truth does not mean blaming, judging, or criticizing the other person. Speaking your truth means acknowledging your feelings and needs while accepting that it is your responsibility (not the other person’s) to meet your needs. Anytime you start a statement with you—for example, You always or You never—it is almost always a criticism or accusation. When you start with I and then share how you feel or what you need, you take responsibility for your own needs and make it much easier for the other person to hear you. 

Ask yourself now:

  1. What am I telling myself about this situation?
  2. What are the actual bare bones of the situation? What is actually happening?

Step Six: Make a super specific request. The more precise you can make your request, the greater the chances that the other person will understand what you want and say yes. 

For example, your partner might not know what you mean when you say, “I need support!” They might have an easier time understanding and responding if you say, “Can you please drive the kids to school for the next couple of weeks so I can write in the mornings?” 

Stating a request is different from saying that you wish the other person had done something different in the past, stating what you don’t want to happen, or telling the other person that they need to do something or that you need them to do something for you (“You need to be there for me more”). 

Instead, a specific request invites specific action. In the workplace example, your request may sound like: 

  1. Can we talk about how we might create a workload of forty hours a week on an ongoing basis? 
  2. Can we please take a look at the projects on my plate and figure out what’s a priority and what we might put on the backburner so that I can limit my work to forty hours per week?

Sometimes, you won’t feel like you have a specific request. Instead, you’ll just want to feel heard or know where the other person thinks. In that case, you may request that the other person listen and reflect what you said or share their thoughts with you. 

Ask yourself now: What specific request(s) do I want to make?

Step Seven: Listen then reflect what you hear. Once you share your request: 

  1. Listen closely to what the other person says in response, trying to truly understand them. 
  2. Reflect back what you hear them saying without needing to agree or feeling responsible for how they feel. 

Ask yourself now: How might I prepare to listen well?

Step Eight: Be willing to hear no. If the other person says yes to your request, fantastic! But if they are unable or unwilling to meet your request, you’ll need to modify your request or meet your needs in a different way. 

Let’s say that despite many conversations, you cannot figure out how to create a reasonable workload in your current job. You might consider pursuing a different work path. 

Or, let’s say you want your partner to share housekeeping responsibilities more. You might request that you take turns doing the dishes right after you eat. However, if your partner doesn’t follow through, there may be other ways to meet your needs. Perhaps you do the dishes every day, and your partner does another chore you dislike. 

You have the right to ask for what you want and other people have the right to say yes or no. If you try to beg, plead, or force the other person to give you something that they’re not ready, willing, or able to give, things are unlikely to go well. 

If the relationship is important to you, and the request is a dealbreaker, I encourage you to reach out to a mediator or therapist for support.   

Ask yourself now: What will I do if they say “no?”

Step Nine: If either of you gets triggered, pause. And get curious about what is and is not about you. Even when you do your best and are as clear as possible, not everyone will get you. You won’t always know what went off in a conversation. We humans view each other through channels of perception that we fill with all sorts of stories. Unfortunately, we don’t have control over the stories that other people tell themselves about us. Sometimes, people will judge you by no fault of your own. 

If either you or the other person gets triggered, choose to pause. Take a break from the conversation, and plan a time when you’ll return to the conversation together. You are far more likely to react in ways that you later regret when you’re triggered. Taking just fifteen minutes to pause and settle your body can make a huge difference.

Ask yourself: 

  1. If I get triggered, how will I respond?
  2. If the other person gets triggered, how will I respond?

Step Ten: Articulate the agreed to action steps. At the end of the conversation, if you feel like you’ve come to an agreement with the other person, clearly articulate what each of you is committing to and make sure you’re both on the same page. This will help to avoid assumptions and prevent future frustrations. 

Before you head into a conversation to make a request, take some time to prepare. To do that, I invite you to jot down your responses to the following questions:

Finally, it’s time to have the conversation!

Do your best not to catch the other person off guard or charge into a potentially heated conversation when the other person is distracted. Instead, let the other person know that you’d like to talk with them about something important, and request to set a time that works well for both of you. 

That way, you both have the opportunity to be fully present and give each other your full attention.

If you take all of these steps, you are far more likely to have a successful outcome, and 

If you’re still nervous, I invite you to respond to your fear with compassion and do your best. No matter how the other person responds, if you follow these steps, you’ll know you’ve done your best.

Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Wishing you all the best and lots of courage!

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