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The assertive way to ask for stuff

Tags: Be interesting | Impact | Leadership | Influencing

20th March

If you want someone to do something, you’re going to have to ask them to do something.

But what’s the best way to do this?

Well, you’ve got four options:

  1. Be aggressive
  2. Be passive
  3. Be assertive
  4. Don’t ask at all

To illustrate what these look like, here are four ways people often end emails. Can you match each one with the four options above?

  • Should you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to call
  • Please can you (do action X) by (deadline Y). And then I’ll (do action Z)
  • I need this report by Friday
  • If it isn’t too much trouble – and I know how busy you are – please would it be possible to try and fit this into your schedule somehow? Don’t worry if you can’t!

Can you tell which is which?

And can you recognise which is most like your emails?

The best sentence is the assertive one – number two. Here, you’re stating what you want. You aren’t embarrassed or apologetic about it. But nor are you barking out orders. And you’re asking for something (the top phrase isn’t even doing that).

Sometimes, we can fall into the trap of thinking we’re being assertive when we’re being passive/not asking. Re-read the top and bottom phrases – do any of your emails end like that?

I’ve used emails as an example. But, of course, it’s exactly the same when you’re chatting. The same rules apply. In that, if you want them to do something, you’ll have to ask them to do something. And, when you do, being assertive with “please can you” is often the best approach.

In fact, being assertive and asking for stuff is one of the most important communication skills to master.

That’s why, whenever I’m preparing anything, I always start at the end. What is it I want my recipient to do? And what’s the best way for me to ask them to do it?

I then work back from there, to construct my communication – working out the best, quickest way to convince them to do it.

This isn’t aggressive. It isn’t passive. Instead, it’s the most efficient, effective, pleasant way of achieving what I want, in a way that they’re happy with.
In the next few minutes, you’ll be emailing, chatting, presenting, training, coaching, sending a proposal… in other words, you’ll be talking to somebody about something.

Which of the four approaches will you use at the end?

Action Point

For your next communication, look at your final bit – the last slide of your presentation, the last section of your proposal, etc. And make sure you’re asking them to do something, and that you’re asking in an assertive way. Do this, and they’re much more likely to do what you want.

For more tips on assertive comms, I’ve recorded some free videos (the ones marked “free preview”). You can watch them for free here.