Especially during uncertain times, kindness is the best route to getting what you need
By Dr. Cindy McGovern
The way you ask for something often has more to do with whether you get it than what you’re asking for.
During this prolonged period of limitations, it’s becoming more important than ever to squeeze all the joy we can out of every day. Often, the best way to do that is to ask those who are closest to you to help you get what you want.
That might not be as easy during a pandemic as it was when you could go wherever you wanted and ask for favors in person.
Instead, you might be spending most of your time at home with family or roommates who—face it—don’t always want the same things that you do.
That probably means you’re negotiating a little more often than you used to: Which movie does everyone want to watch? What’s the consensus for dinner? What kind of boundaries are we all going to respect when it comes to each other’s workspaces, sleep schedules and quiet time?
If you’re working remotely, will your colleagues and bosses accommodate your need to spend time with your kids at certain times of the day? Will they remember to include you in meetings and decisions that are important to you? Will they be as attentive and courteous during a Zoom meeting as they would be during an in-person conversation?
Don’t guess. Ask.
And when you ask, be nice about it.
It’s a time of stress and anxiety for everyone—not just you. Others also are forfeiting their usual leisure activities and the social contact that they feel they need to feel whole and happy. They’re also worried that they will be unheard because of the lack of personal interaction with co-workers and supervisors.
If ever there was a time to apply the Golden Rule—to treat others as you would like them to treat you—it’s now.
Here are four important reminders that will help you get what you want and need during a time when so much of that is either legally or practically out of your reach.
1. Ask for it.
It’s easy to assume that the people who know you so well—family, friends and co-workers, for instance—automatically sense what you want or need from them. But that is rarely true, even when you’re spending time with them in person.
You set yourself up for disappointment if you don’t get something because you don’t ask for it.
It’s OK to ask for what you want, even if you find yourself asking for a lot. The dynamics of every relationship have changed because of the rules of the pandemic. Find your footing by letting others know how they can help you muddle through—and that you’re there to lend a hand in return.
2. Ask nicely.
Even if you feel you’re in the right, don’t impose your will on others during this sensitive time. Even if you’re a parent or a manager and the ultimate decision is yours, don’t rule with an iron fist.
Don’t say, “You have to do this.” Instead, ask, “Would you mind doing this?”
Don’t demand, “Get this done by 4 p.m.” Instead, gauge how reasonable that timeframe is: “Would it be possible for you to finish this up by 4 p.m.?”
Don’t tell people that they “have to” do it your way or that they “don’t have any choice.” Instead, get their buy-in: “Here’s how I would like to get this done. What do you think of that plan?”
Think of how you would feel if someone demanded that you do something that you’re not comfortable doing; don’t have time to do; or would like to do another way. How would you like that person to approach you: with an edict or a request?
3. Address concerns directly
If you are upset about the way someone is treating you or about a new rule that you must follow, take your concerns directly to the source of your complaint.
Especially if you are working remotely, chances are good that the source won’t know you’re unhappy unless you say something. Closed workplaces mean there’s no mumbling in the hallways or impromptu conversations that will let the person catch wind of your complaint any other way.
The same is true for family members who don’t live with you, like a former partner who shares custody of your children, for example.
Gossiping on the phone, sending texts to everyone except the person who can solve your problem, or lighting up social media with accusations isn’t going to help you get your way. Instead, it’s going to incite others to have bad feelings about the other person—and probably about you, too.
Consider that your manager at work or even someone you share your home with might not realize that his or her behavior has caused you a problem. Again, how would you like others to address a concern with you: behind your back or to your face?
4. Recognize what you don’t know
Everyone is struggling right now, and in different ways. You can’t possibly know every friend’s or co-worker’s situation. You might not know, if you press someone do something or give you something that you need, that doing so might create an unreasonable hardship.
Many families are dealing with loved ones who are sick. Some have lost loved ones and can’t have proper funerals. Weddings are getting canceled. Couples are getting separated during this extraordinarily stressful time—and some have to continue to live together. Co-workers could be struggling financially if their spouses have lost their jobs.
You don’t need to pry into their business to take their circumstances into consideration. Asking instead of demanding will go a long way toward allowing others to decline your requests if they simply are not in a position to grant them.
As we wait out the healthcare crisis, “nice” might just be your most effective tool for getting what you want and need in a way that also helps the people you interact with most often get what they need at the time.
Dr. Cindy McGovern, CEO of Orange Leaf Consulting and Author of the Wall Street Journal best seller Every Job is a Sales Job: How to Use the Art of Selling to Win at Work