We are social beings. Through personal relationships we not only find a sense of belonging but establish our sense of self. Our close relationships are a gift, yet often these are the very relationships in which we struggle to ask for what we need. History can paint our relationships with ideas or expectations that limit our ability to see beyond. We may preemptively decide how someone will respond & adjust our behaviour based on that assumption. Asking for what we need, for something different in these situations can be particularly challenging but when we do we open a pathway to greater intimacy & mutual understanding.
Years ago I found myself in such a dynamic. Whenever a close friend & I would talk on the phone it would inevitably revolve around her life & her problems. She would talk for almost an hour without inquiring about me or my life. In the beginning I didn’t really understand why I was upset. I told myself that I was being a good friend & that she needed someone who was there for her. But, after awhile I found myself becoming resentful & left our conversations feeling drained.
Instinctively I began to avoid conversations with my friend. When she called, or I considered calling her my mind would instantly go to the narrative “I don’t have the energy for this today.” Fortunately, after a few of these moments I was able to acknowledge what was happening. I didn’t want to end this friendship or dismiss this person from my life - I was just frustrated by the dynamics of our conversation. I realized it was quite likely my friend didn’t even know there was a problem. It was up to me to tell her what was going on & ask for what I needed.
With this change of perspective I was able to talk to my friend with kindness instead of resentment. I told her that I love & appreciate her & that I was finding myself frustrated after our conversations. I asked if she would engage more with me, by asking me questions & takin more interest in my life.
This conversation opened a door for us. I learned that she felt she wasn’t good enough at listening & that she believed I didn't want to talk to her about my life. By hearing her perspective I came to realize that in my frustration I had changed my behaviour. I had become less willing to talk about my life, instead waiting for her to ask & further demonstrate my inner narrative. By asking for what I needed we both learned something; she learned how I wanted better engage with me in conversation & I learned how my behaviour, based on my inner narrative, had contributed to the problem. We both grew & our conversations today feel balanced & enjoyable.
Asking for what we need is a door. It opens us to the possibility of receiving what we desire & understanding ourself & our relationships better. These conversations shed light onto those blind spots that can only be revealed through another’s perspectives.
Clarify Your Needs
We often don’t realize we need something different until we receive what we don’t want. Understanding what we need is a skill. We develop this skill through reflection & patience. In time & with practice we become more aware & better able to communicate our needs in the present.
The way a person responds to us is not wrong. It is simply their response. Advice, for example can be received by one person as a gift and in other situation may be perceived as criticism or overbearing. When we remove blame & our expectations of how we believe a person ‘should’ respond we begin to take responsibility for ourselves & our needs. This is empowering because it takes the onus of our happiness out of the external world (what they do/did) & places it in our hands (what we need/ choose).
When you leave a conversation feeling unsatisfied or disappointed take some time to reflect. How would you have liked the other person to respond? What type of response would have felt supportive or helpful? By reflecting in this way we begin to see what we need to feel supported in various situations.
As we clarify our needs we become more equipped to communicate & meet them. We may choose to speak to a specific person who we know will give us what we need or ask those we care about to support us in a specific way; i.e. “I really need to get something off my chest, would you mind listening & letting me get it all out?” In clarifying our needs we may even find that sometimes we can meet them for ourselves.
At the core our needs are human needs - understanding them for ourself also enables us to better understand them in others.
Here is a list of common needs in personal conversations
~ To be Heard
~ To be Understood
~ Advice or Help
~ To be Seen
~ To be Celebrated
~ To Share
~ To Listen
Connect & Appreciate
Asking for what we need is less about changing the other person & more about creating a mutually respectful & understanding relationship. As inner narratives can be one-sided (i.e. “they never listen”, “they always try & fix everything”) it's important to take a step back & approach the other person from a respectful stance. They may not realize there is a problem or may be dealing with their own narratives or circumstances. A generous perspective of our friend or personal relationship invites reciprocity & allows us to see beyond our narrative.
When someone behaves in a way different then what we desire we can both appreciate their behaviour & ask for what we need instead. For example, if someone offers advice when what we need is to be heard & understood we might say “I appreciate that you have some advice & insight on this but right now I’m not in a place to receive it. It would really help me if you could listen & offer some empathy & understanding. Would you be willing to do that?”
If we find ourself ruminating on a difficult interaction it can be helpful to imagine what the person needs or wants. An overbearing parent, for example, may desire us to be safe or secure. By acknowledging that very real concern we are more likely to approach them in a respectful & understanding way.
*For those relationships that are lost or feel disconnected (i.e. break ups, lost friends) it may help to check out the blog “Meeting our Ghosts”
Make Reasonable, Specific, Invitational Requests.
Requests that are simple, specific, & invitational are generally the easiest to hear & to meet. If we present our request as a demand, a vague generalization, or as an ultimatum it may bring unnecessary tension into our relationship.
Be Specific. Specificity is powerful. It clarifies our needs into tangible & relatable action. Instead of vague requests “I need you to start listening to me” try something specific & concise “Would you mind repeating back what you heard so I know that we are on the same page?”
Be Reasonable. There is a give & take in all relationships. Be respectful of others needs by making reasonable requests. Small simple requests build a foundation of trust & reciprocity.
Invitational language. Use invitational language to ask for what you need in a way that is connected & respectful. i.e. “Would you be willing”, “Would you mind”, “Do you have the time to”)
Receive What Comes.
Ultimately how our request is received is beyond our control. If our request is met it’s helpful to offer gratitude - “thank you for listening” or “I appreciate you taking the time to go over this with me” - are kind ways to both show appreciation & reinforce the behaviour that supports us.
Sometimes our request is not met in the way we had hoped. This doesn’t mean we shouldn't ask for what we need. In strong relationship dynamics a request for a different behaviour might catch someone off guard. It’s not uncommon for people to take the request personally or become defensive. Ensure that your request is clear, respectful, & free from blame. Then give the person time to process. Just because someone doesn’t seem to ‘get’ our request the first time around doesn’t mean they won’t consider it in the future.
Ultimately asking others for what we need is about mutual respect & understanding. As much as we ask for what we need it’s important for us to listen & appreciate the needs of others. When we clarify & ask for what we need we can also become more attuned to what others might need. For example, if you notice your friend coming out when you give her advice you might say - “I notice you seem to be somewhere else, were you looking for advice, or would you rather I just listen?” We won’t get it right all the time but our genuine interest in being both supportive & supported can go a long way in building meaningful relationships.
About the Author Amy Thiessen is a coach, writer, & musician who focuses on helping others find & express a their voice with resonance. Her unique approach works with the wholistic mechanism of voice utilizing somatic awareness, psychology, mindfulness, spiritual practice, & vocal techniques of toning & song.
Personal relationships are foundational to our sense of self & interpersonal support. If you would like support in navigating & communication more effectively in your personal relationships please book a free consult & we can see if 'In Resonance' Coaching is right for you.