OPINION: People Aren’t Mind Readers—You Have to Tell Them What You Want



WHY IS IT so hard to ask for something?

I asked my business communication students at Queens this question recently when we were discussing how to make routine requests. Often, students struggle with how to ask for what they want, and I wanted to find out why so few students say what they mean.

One student said he had been taught that it was rude to say, “I want.” He was looking for ways to get the idea across less directly. “What if the answer is no?” another student asked. 

Ah, fear of rejection. Fear of failure. They come in so many forms. Students and others who strive to excel often have pride on the line. Rejection might equal failure. And failure means…you learned something. 

You might learn how to ask more effectively, or at a better time. But there’s no getting around the fact that sometimes you do have to ask for what you want. People aren’t mind readers, and frankly, that’s just as well. Some of our random thoughts aren’t ready for prime time until we’ve sorted them out. 

The first step in making routine requests is to discern whether it’s a routine request. If it is, the answer is probably going to be “yes,” or “yes, but.” As in, “Yes, I can do that, after I finish this other project.” Or, “Yes, I can do that after I return from vacation.”

Then break it down to the fundamentals: What do you want? Why do you want it? What action do you want to see, and when? Keep it simple, and clear, and say thanks. People are much more likely to say “yes” when you do. 

Asking for what you want can be hard, but it doesn’t have to be.

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