Today a client of mine and I were talking about confidence, along with concepts like feeling that one has inherent value, and cultivating one’s personal power (e.g. saying “no” without feeling like a b**ch about it). All throughout this discussion, I heard myself giving her advice that I really still need to take myself, and that maybe some of you could benefit from as well.

Let’s say you’re feeling overwhelmed and have arrived home to a dirty kitchen. You’d really rather that your partner (who may or may not have been responsible for some or all of said mess) clean it instead of you having to do it. You might say something like, “Wow, this kitchen is really messy. It really needs to be cleaned.” Or, you may start cleaning the kitchen yourself, uttering statements like, “I’m so tired. I really wish I didn’t have to come home to this.” Of course, none of these utterances are directly ASKING for what you want. There are several not-so-great things about this method:

  1. There is a passive request hidden in the statements, which the other person WILL be picking up on.
  2. Although the request is in there, it’s covered in, well…gunk: resentment, guilt, etc. that the other person is also picking up on, much louder than the actual request.
  3. It displays a lack of personal power, and a lack of confidence: you’d rather not ask the question directly out of fear the response will be “no”, which could lead to a more thorough confrontation, etc.
  4. The person hearing the request covered in gunk feels that THEY have no power either: i.e. there’s no option to say “no” and have that be OK.

Contrast this with: “Honey, I’m really beat. Would you clean up the kitchen tonight?” (The first sentence is optional, but I do think some gentle reasoning is fine, as long as it’s not a big long defense.) In this method of communicating:

  1. The request is clear.
  2. The person hears no attachments to fulfilling the request: in other words, it feels OK to say no if they want to.
  3. This is because YOU are making the request from a place of personal power–i.e. you won’t fall apart or cover them with guilt if they say “no”.
  4. What’s paradoxical about this is that usually if the other person feels free to say “no”, they will say “yes”.

Over the next week, I encouraged my client to focus on two things related to this issue:

  1. Gently call other people out when you hear that they’re making a request covered in gunk. “Mom, are you asking for my help with ____ ?” This brings some attention to the fact that you recognize the request buried in the gunk, and (hopefully) teaches them a little better phrasing for future requests.
  2. Notice when s/he makes similar types of requests, and attempt to be more direct. Often these things are learned, from parents, partners, etc., and we don’t realize that we ourselves talk in this passive guilt-covered language.

One is still free to say “no” or “yes” to any requests, and must be open with the possibility that the request one makes could be met with a “no”. But I feel that directly asking for what one wants is a much better way to communicate. Regardless of the answer, it is rooted in personal power and confidence.

Do you or someone else you know do this? What do you think? Comment and let me know!

Cultivating confidence & personal power through direct requests
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