Lessons from a Recovering Doormat

I went out for lunch today to a diner. A guy came in, also by himself. He knew what he wanted. But, instead of just saying what it was, he asked, “May I have eggs, over easy?” I’ve heard this many times before when people were in a place that they paid for a good or service, yet asked for it, instead of just saying what they want. “I’d like 2 eggs, over easy.”

Many people ask for what they have a right to expect.

Yet it’s so common. I did it all the time when I was a DoorMat. It reinforced how powerless I felt. I couldn’t just receive anything, even if I was paying for it! So I’d ask like the person was doing me a favor instead of giving me what I was entitled to. And each time I did was a reminder that I wasn’t worthy.

“Could I trouble you for some more coffee?” Why is it trouble? The waiter’s job is to get you what you want. Then you pay for it.

“Can you fix my broken toilet?” to the maintenance person. Do you really want to give him a choice? What if his answer is “no?” Do you live without a working toilet? Besides hurting your self-image, asking for what you definitely should get sets a tone for the person to take you less seriously. A waiter may not rush to refill your water if you speak like everything he does is a favor, instead of his job. Your plumber may save you for the last stop. The bartender may ignore you if it’s very busy. “My I have a glass of wine?” can leave you thirsty. “One glass of Chianti please” gets taken more seriously.

Yet both men and women often ask apologetically, instead of just stating what they want. Your choice of words sets a strong tone for your self-esteem, and your confidence. Pay attention to how you ask for things. It’s one thing to ask for a favor. Getting acquiescence for one isn’t a given. But when it’s something you pay for, you should state your needs and sound like you expect to get what you want.

When I say this in a workshop, often I’m challenged with arguments that it’s not polite to just tell someone what you want. But it is. You can still be polite. “I’d like 2 eggs, over easy. Thanks.” I always say thank you when someone brings me what I want. I express my appreciation to waiters, service people and anyone else I buy something from or use the services of. But it’s because I do appreciate the job they do. It feels a lot better than acting like a child asking mommy for something.

I think the tendency to ask instead of stating it comes from childhood. Kids ask for everything. Some learn they have to wheedle to get what they want. When your self-esteem grows as you grow into an adult, you might just naturally switch into a different way to say what you want. But if you’re like I was, I still felt like a child who was afraid of being turned down for everything I asked for. So I’d ask apologetically or like I was afraid they’d say “no.”

I had to consciously battle my old DoorMat ways for a while; listen to how I put my needs out. I realized when I just stated, I felt better about me. That was good motivation to continue expressing what I wanted in ways that showed I expected results. Be more definite in your expectations of what you ask for. When done with a smile and appreciation, it’s usually a win/win experience.

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