How to Get What You Want (Without Being a Jerk)

Would you rather take a cab than ask your daughter to pick you up from the airport? Do you pay full price at a flea market instead of bargaining? You’re not alone.

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The Secret to Speaking Up

When it comes to loaded emotional discussions-whether they unfold in an office, across the dining-room table, or in the bedroom-it can be particularly challenging to take a stand. And while we hate pushing back, sometimes it’s important to get what you want.

“It’s hard to speak from a vulnerable place,” says Vancouver psychologist Richard Harrison. “We can often be ashamed of our needs, like they’re too much; we worry they’re going to be minimized.” But it’s crucial to be able to serve as your own advocate. Here are six ways to follow through on getting what you want.

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1. Don’t Be Defensive

Being confronted with disapproval or distance in any relationship can be as scary as staring down a predator, so it’s tempting to avoid voicing our demands in the first place. It’s common to get caught in what Harrison calls “a negative interactional pattern,” such as assigning blame and being defensive. Once a relationship breaks free from those entrenched dynamics, Harrison says it’s easier for you to get what you want-whether it’s where to retire or how to spend money.

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2. Have Direct Conversations

Scary conversations are crucial to the health of a relationship. In a March 2016 study from Florida State University, a psychologist looked at couples’ standards for marriage, their levels of satisfaction and their communication skills. Partners who were able to have direct conversations about what caused conflict and what was necessary to resolve it were more likely to hold their relationship to a higher bar-and to feel as though those expectations were met-than those who resorted to sarcasm and hostility.

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3. Have Good Posture

The way you carry yourself makes a big difference if you want to get what you want. Wanda Morris, COO and VP of advocacy for the Canadian Association of Retired Persons (CARP), has spoken before parliamentary committees about palliative care and is well-versed in having fraught conversations. Before she begins, she recalls her father’s advice: “Shoulders back, stand up straight,” Morris says. “Your body language is going to give you authority and confidence.”

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4. Be Confident

If you’re making a tough request, know why you’re doing it, says Ayana Ledford, executive director of Pittsburgh-based PROGRESS, an organization that helps empower women with negotiation tools. “Do you want more money? Do you want a new experience with your partner?” When you understand what really matters to you, she says, you’re in the best possible position to speak on your own behalf.

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Get what you want by being specific
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5. Be Specific About Your Request

We’re not disinclined to contradict an expert or ask questions, which means a doctor’s office, for instance, can be a difficult place to advocate for yourself. “Be very specific about what you’re going through and what you need,” Morris says. Don’t just say you’re hurting, she suggests-say the pain is an eight out of 10 and that it feels like a dagger in your left knee. You can also bring a friend to make sure you don’t downplay your symptoms.

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Colleagues walking and talking
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6. Revisit the Issue

After you talk, make a plan, a week or a month later, to revisit the issue. Ledford says that establishing timelines helps avoid landing in “we’re working on it” limbo. “People need to get back to you,” she says. “Set a firm date.” In doing so, you retain a measure of control over the situation. Because, sure, you can’t always get what you want. But that’s today. There’s still tomorrow.

Related features:
3 Ways To Be A More Compassionate Person
7 Stages Of Marriage
7 Ways To Get Along With Colleagues At Work

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