How to Ask for What you Want

Georgia sprained her ankle recently and wants her husband to pick up the slack with the housework. Dennis wants the holiday time he asked for and was denied by his manager. Joyce wants her siblings to pitch in with caring for their mother who has cancer and is needing a lot of support. Sabrine wants her landlord to stop dropping in unannounced. Ramona wants to take a break with her relationship with her girlfriend. A Northern community has been asking for clean drinking water for 15 years and is getting tired of asking. Matt has been struggling with suicidal thoughts due to ongoing homophobia in his school and is afraid to ask for help from administration with this. 

Knowing what we want and need is only part of the battle. Asking for it is another. 

There are many reason we don’t ask for what we want. Here are a few:

“I shouldn’t have to ask.”

We assume that what we want is either common knowledge or is implicitly understood. Sabrine’s desire to have her landlord not drop in is actually in line with legal limits for landlords. For whatever reason, her landlord has not been abiding by this law and so, while it may not be fair, Sabrine will have to speak up.

Georgia may feel that she shouldn’t have to ask her husband to help out with housework because it’s obvious that she has not been able to keep up with the housework since she sprained her ankle. For whatever reason, her husband has not noticed or has decided not to do this for some reason that is, as of yet, unknown to Georgia. While it would be nice if our partner’s paid attention to the same things we do and prioritize their activities in the same way we do, they don’t (and vice versa).

Like Sabrine, communities without clean drinking water should not have to ask for their water treatment plants to be repaired, but if they don’t ask, it may never happen.


  • Address anger about having to ask. You don’t have to stop being angry about it, but you may have to come to a decision about whether the task of asking is more tedious that the frustration of not having what you want. You can even communicate that you are frustrated about having to ask, but you still may need to ask

“I don’t deserve to ask”

Dennis may have noticed that not of all his co-workers got the holiday time they asked for and so may think that he shouldn’t make a fuss since they did not. Also, Dennis took some time off last year when his father passed away. However, Dennis is worried that if he doesn’t get this time off his marriage will be in trouble as this is his inlay’s 50th anniversary and they’ll be hosting family from across the country that week. His wife has made it clear that Dennis needs to be available that week. This is after multiple arguments about priorities over the past year and how she feels he constantly puts work before family.

Matt may believe that he should be able to handle the treatment he is receiving in his school. Maybe he went into the school knowing it was a homophobic environment and had, initially thought he’d just handle it and that it would be worth it to get the education he wanted. However, if he does not ask, the continued emotional and psychological abuse may cause him serious harm and, at the very least, may make it impossible for him to complete his education.


  • Check about where the feeling that you don’t deserve to ask comes from. Who told you that you had to do this all alone? Who told you that asking for help is a sign of weakness? Are you worried that others will respond out of guilt instead of a genuine desire to give you what you want and then resent you? As an aside, in my opinion, we do people a discredit by trying to protect them from their own inability to also say what they manor don’t want.
  • You may also need to consider if this feeling comes from the fact that you’ve been given clean ‘No’s” in the past from this person or group. If this is the case, ask yourself, “Do I need to ask somewhere else?”
  • If this person or group is legally or ethically obligated to meet your request and either doesn’t respond or repeated refuses to meet it, then, depending on your level of need, some requests may need to become demands.

“I’m afraid to ask”

Ramona is afraid to ask her lover for space for fear of hurting her lover’s feelings. Ramona doesn’t want the relationship to end, but knows she needs to focus on her own mental health, at this time.

Matt may fear asking for help from administration at his school about the homophobia he is encountering, for fear of a backlash, particularly if his school administration has participated in or condoned homophobic behaviour in their school previously.

Joyce may worry that if she asks her siblings for help with their mom, that they will not only decline, but start to criticize the way Joyce has been supporting her mother so far. Then she would be, not only supporting her mom on her own but dealing with her siblings interference and conflict.

Georgia worries that if she asks her husband for help and he says yes but doesn’t follow through, she will resent him even more.


  • Consider the policy “there is no wrong thing to ask as long as you are prepared to receive a ‘no’ in response.”
  • Also, you don’t have to ask alone. In the case of Matt and the school administration, Matt would do well to find out if others are facing the same issues, either in his school or other school and elicit support from them or those who have been identified as allies to Matt or to people, in general, facing this issue.
  • Backlash is a real risk. Having more support and not going it alone will help with this, knowing your legal rights and who is available to advocate and support you will also help. Timing might be a consideration when there are high risks for backlash. Are you physically well, financially dependent on the person or group you are asking, what else might be at risk? Mitigate risks as best as you can prior to asking.
  • Conflict in response to a requests- in the case of Joyce, she will need to set clear boundaries in response to any conflict that comes up as a result of her request. This includes boundaries on feedback she is willing to receive and how and when she receives it. (See also Where Do I Draw the Line?.
  • Whatever the possible repercussions of asking, it is worthwhile to consider your own wellbeing int he process, how to care for yourself, particularly in issues that are ongoing, or systemic in nature. (see also When the Stakes are High – Caring for Your Mental Health When Debating Things That Matter)

“I don’t know how to ask”

If Dennis asked for holiday time once already and was denied, he might wonder how he should go about asking again, for example who should he talk to and what should he say?

Sabrine might feel at a loss as to how to communicate to her landlord about her issue as he seems to think that it is normal to drop in any time and is often very friendly.

Matt may wonder how to communicate his concerns to people who have already shown that they are less than empathetic to people in the LGBT community.


  • Check that you are clear on what you are asking for. Make it concrete. Asking for help with housework might be vague to someone who has a different standard of cleanliness or who might not know what all is involved in the tasks.
  • Check your communication habits. Avoid passive aggressive communication (check out Passive Aggressiveness)
  • For issues that involves groups, for example in the case of the community needing clean drinking water, or of Matt confronting school administration, it can be difficult to know not only how to ask but who to ask. Check and see if anyone else has been facing the same kind of issues, research what they have done, check if they or others can help by providing legal counsel, or specialty advice on the issues. Get others involved. Consider long term and short term strategies, consider direct requests, and if ignored or rebuffed consider back up plans such as direct action, involvement of media, etc. In your strategy, plan for and consider backlash and vulnerabilities. See previous section “I’m afraid to ask” for more on this.

“I’ve already asked and I don’t want to ask again”

In the past, Joyce may have asked her siblings for help with similar issues and is worried about a repeat of that experience.

The Northern community may have asked repeatedly for the government to responds to their water crisis, in a variety of ways and may be feeling burnt out from that process.


  • It may be that your communication was unclear to the other person or group the first time.
  • Or it may be that it is time to turn requests into demands (see previous section for more on this).
  • It may be time for clear boundaries that responds directly to behaviour. (See also When Boundaries Aren’t Respected).
  • It may also be worth turning to allies to request that they take on the work of asking so that you can have a break.


2 thoughts on “How to Ask for What you Want

  1. Pingback: How to Argue Better for Things that Matter | It's Not Just You

  2. Pingback: 8 Ways to Care for Strong Emotions | It's Not Just You

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