Blog #15: The better ask

Stating your needs—or desires—may be one of the most difficult things to do. You may fear judgment, anger, criticism, rejection, or derision. At work, you may risk all sorts of negative feedback. Out in the world, you risk confrontation or disappointment. And of course, in relationship, you risk all of the above.

But the upside far outweighs those risks.

But then, you could get what you need or want. You could be recognized as an innovator or problem solver. You could affect positive change. You could be a much happier person.

So the real challenge isn’t saying what’s on your mind. It’s saying things in such a way that your most honorable—or at least honest—intentions are heard.

For example, compare:

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“I goddamn hate it when you do that …”

… with …

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“Let’s try doing this differently …”

or:

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“This is disgusting!”

… with …

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“I like broccoli better than Brussels sprouts …”

or:

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“You’re such a bore …”

… with …

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“Maybe we can try something new …”

Yeah, I know, trying to be all responsible and communicative in difficult moments is much harder than knowing the right words to use. And it can mean taking great risks with your emotions and ego. Again, consider the upside.

The beauty of a yoga practice is that it helps us confront difficult situations and learn to handle them with calm, self-awareness, and equanimity. Now multiply that by a relationship, and imagine how beneficial it will be to share all that insight. To turn it into communication.

As an experiment, try doing that on your own.

Choose a simple but challenging asana, sink into it, and observe your reaction. As you squirm, struggle, and resist, speak through your experience, out loud. State clearly and without judgment what you would prefer. Observe your physical response and emotions to that.

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For example, let’s look at a standing forward bend, uttanasana.

Although first, a reminder: always move well within your comfort and understanding of the pose. This is not a complete guide to the asana, just a case study.

So set yourself up in mountain pose, tadasana. Go through the tadasana punch list, as you do every day: plant your feet firmly but gently on the ground; feel your feet, knees, hips, shoulders, and head all in alignment, your weight rooted on the ground; draw your shoulders back and down; draw your knees into your quadriceps; feel the crown of your head rise; engage your torso.

When you’re ready, bend at the waist and begin your fold. And then there you are, that place where you start feeling the resistance of your hamstrings, maybe even a tug in your lower back. That’s as far as you’re going to go.

Now, notice. What’s your first response? Did you groan in frustration? Gird yourself to push through? Curse in anger? Whimper in helplessness?

Turn that into a calm, honest request, from you to yourself. Then, from right where you are, say it out loud:

“I’d really like to open up my hamstrings,” or “I wish I could do this better,” or “I’m gonna do this more often.”

There it is. In a little, harmless way, you’ve confronted a difficult situation and expressed a desire for some other outcome. No fear. No judgment. No problem.

Try it during your next asana session. When the going gets tough, find the words to express yourself in a productive, beneficial fashion. Soon the words will come easily.

The next step is to carry that awareness with you. Struggling through that forward bend is no different than dealing with a querulous colleague, an unkind stranger, or a difficult situation with your partner. You wish it were different. The good news is that you can make that difference.

Speak your truth, quietly, to yourself, in the form of a request.

When you’re ready, try it in harmless situations: “You know, let’s have broccoli not Brussels sprouts,” or “I have an idea for doing that differently, can I tell you?”

It’s no different at work, in the kitchen, in the bedroom, or wherever. Soon you’ll have both the words and wherewithal to express yourself clearly and productively. A couple successes and you’ll own your needs and desires as well as any of us can.

So to recap:

  • Raise your awareness during difficult situations
  • Give voice to your experience, stating it as a request
  • Practice saying it out loud
  • Try it in non-threatening situations
  • Try it in more challenging situations

By the way, it’s pretty unlikely you’ll always get what you want, no matter how charmingly you ask. But satisfaction is way more likely if you ask in a way that offers the greatest chance for success.

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Let us know how it goes.