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If you want it, ask for it

So you need to ask your friend to pick your child up after school. Or maybe you want to persuade a colleague to help you out with a piece of work. Or perhaps you're really ambitious and you're asking your teenage son to empty the dishwasher.

What's the best way to get the reaction you want?

First, look at the world from their point of view before you start. This helps you work out whether you have any chance of getting a result. If they've got problems of their own, it's no good trying to get them interested in yours.

It's easy to be so wrapped up in what we need that we forget to notice other people. Sure, we know that they're there, but how often do we think about their mood, whether they're harassed or annoyed or anxious, or whether they're feeling great?

If you're thinking too much about what you want and don't notice how they're feeling you could find the simplest of requests leads to an argument.

There are two keys to getting a good result.

One: Find out whether now is the right time to ask.

Two: Ask in the right way.

Stand in their shoes a moment.
Gauge their mood. Look at their eyes. So much is written in people's expressions, and the clues are there to see, but it's easy to get it wrong.

Here's an example. Look at your friend's screwed up eyes. She seems pretty tense. Why's that, then? Is it because she's worried about losing the house because she can't keep up the mortgage repayments, or is it because she can't decide which pair of shoes she's going to wear to a party?

Your reaction to those two reasons is going to be very different.

Don't assume you can guess what people are thinking. You're not a mind reader. Ask her if there is anything wrong. If she tells you about the house, forget about asking her for a favour. Her needs are greater than yours.

Asking for success
Once you feel it's a reasonable time to ask, and you've thought about the state of mind of the person you're asking, make your request clearly.

Be straightforward, specific and firm and give all the information you need. Say to your son,

'Please will you empty the dishwasher before 11 o?clock?'

Listen to the response. If it's 'no' with a good reason, accept it. Don't whinge.

If there's no good reason, just ask again. Acknowledge their response, but don't give up. It's sometimes called the 'broken record' and it's powerful.

'I understand you have to finish your essay but I would like you to empty the dishwasher please.' Or

'I know you're tired, but please empty the dishwasher.'

Keep your voice cheerful and friendly, even with that teenager. And when he finally agrees, ignore any huffing and puffing, even the odd door slamming. Say,

'Thank you,' and move on.