Episode 186: How to Get What We Want | Developing This Relational Skill


We discuss the continuum of strategies for getting what we want and need and balancing the health of any relationship. This dynamic comes up in our romantic relationships, with our kids, our friends, extended family relationships, or at work. There are strategies we can employ to get what we want or need in a constructive way to the relationship, rather than destructive.

TRANSCRIPT: How to Get What We Want | Developing This Relational Skill

Hi everyone, welcome to Thanks for Sharing. I’m your host, Jackie Pack. Today’s episode we are going to talk about ways of getting what you want from others or from the relationships that you’re a part of, and we’re going to talk about and sort them into ways that are not damaging to a relationship and ways that will be damaging to a relationship.

I came across this handout years ago when I was in my bachelor of social work program, so that would put it maybe 28 years ago or so, and the handout I got, I don’t remember what class I got it from. It has no name so I can’t attribute it to anybody, and I’ve added some things over the years and kind of made it fit what I see in my practice when I work with relationships and around relationships. Now I will say I also have taught these things. I didn’t like sit down and teach this to my kids, although I did teach them a lot when they were growing up, like therapy principles, psychology principles. I have been known to put together a PowerPoint presentation and give it to my kids and my husband.

So I’ve also taught them these things, and looking back, my kids are older now, and so I have a couple of decades of parenting them to where I can start to see as they are young adults and moving more into their adult years, I can see whether or not some of my approaches to parenting worked, and I do feel like this one was beneficial for them and for me.

Now I will say when I say it’s beneficial, I have to clarify. It did not make it convenient. It’s convenient as a parent when I say to my kids “because I said so,” “because I’m the mom,” “because I know better”, whatever, something along those lines, when I was teaching this to my kids and my kids started practicing it and it came back around, there are times I would say to my husband, oh my gosh, who taught these kids that they could have a say in things? And he would look at me and say, “That was all you!” Which again, is not a bad thing.

It sometimes made it a little bit longer process for us to decide where we were going to go to dinner or where we were going on vacation because everybody needed to have a voice and everybody needed to have a say and use their skills in getting what they wanted, but at the end of the day, I do feel like it’s made them independent, it’s made them confident, it’s made them able to use their voice and to claim what they want.

So I want you to picture as we talk about this continuum of strategies, just picture kind of a line, that would be the continuum, and halfway in between this line, it would be a horizontal line, it could be a vertical line, but halfway in between is this perpendicular line drawn that says “Accepting no for an answer”.

So on the one hand, let’s say on the left hand, these are relationship constructive or relationship positive. The strategies that we might employ are not going to be destructive to a relationship, and in many ways they may actually build the relationship because we are showing up and we’re speaking and we’re saying what we want, and then that moves along to the left-hand side, and at some point we’re going to hit this “accepting no for an answer”, and accepting no for an answer, I think it’s important to understand that when we accept no for an answer, it needs to be based upon the belief that a good relationship with others ultimately gives us what we want.

So there may be specific things that I want, but ultimately big picture item, I want a positive relationship. I want a healthy relationship with this person, so I’m going to accept no because to move beyond the other side of the continuum, to the left side of the continuum starts to move into relationship destructive strategies that take me out of being relational and start to make it more individual and I’m putting my needs above the relationship.

So I will say on the continuum, strategies that are positive and relationship constructive require a certain amount of trust and a willingness to allow others to make decisions that will affect me. If I’m in a relationship with somebody, I’m allowing this and this other person, because there’s two of us in a relationship or three or in my family that I’ve created there’s six of us, so the other five people in our household in our family dynamic are all going to be impacted by the other five.

Now these strategies may not get me what I want right now because I’m willing to accept no for an answer rather than move into destructive strategies, so if I can accept no for an answer, it provides more freedom and privileges in the future because again accepting no for an answer or not moving into those destructive strategies tends to increase trust. Strategies that are negative and relationship destructive deprive others of respect. They convey a message of distrust and selfishness. These strategies may get me what I want right in that moment, but inevitably they deprive me of future privileges and freedoms that would come if there was trust in the relationship.

So again I don’t know the person who made this original handout, so I don’t know if in their mind these strategies had a hierarchical numbering to them and it went like most reasonable towards being relationship destructive or vice versa. I kind of think just the way that they’re listed here that there is some hierarchical categories and nature to them, although I can’t be certain.

So the first positive thing that we can do, if I want something, the first item that I can do that is relationship constructive is I can just make the request. I can just ask. I can simply ask for what I want or what I need. It communicates, just making this request will communicate my need or my want while offering a choice. So anytime I’m making a request, this is something that maybe in my relationship it’s something that I want to spend a certain amount of money on. I’m not just going to make that decision unilaterally, and so my spouse gets to have a say in this as well, and so when I’m making a request, I may get a yes, I may get a no, I may get a “well let’s plan for this” or “let’s look at what that would mean”. So I can simply just make a request. This is what I want, or this is what I need, and we go from there and we start to talk.

You might think back to the episode that I did on the drama triangle. So that was an episode that talked about unhealthy patterns of communication. So we’re not going to want to fall into unhealthy patterns of communication, but I can make a request and then we can start to talk and we can look at options and we can start to negotiate.

The second one on this continuum is positive reinforcement. So I may use rewards, I may compliment, I may give recognition to this person, and I might praise them in order to increase the likelihood of a yes or to increase the likelihood of me getting what I want. Now I don’t generally use this with my partner. Now that doesn’t mean that I don’t compliment him or praise him or give him recognition, but it’s typically not attached to something that I’m wanting from him.

Again I think on most of these if it’s not based on a foundation of trust, all of these can be dysfunctional. This is something I saw more like with my kids, maybe as they were young teens or the tween years kind of moving into the teen years and they would usually come with me and be like, “Mom, I love you so much. Mom, you’re the best mom. “ And I’d be like, “What do you want?” So they weren’t really smooth at it, but it was this attempt to butter me up or remind me that they loved me and they were in a relationship with me so that I would care about their wants and needs, not that I would forget that, but you know.

The next one is public relations. This is where we talk about what the benefit is to the other person, so I may use my own positive attributes to influence another person to provide what I want and need. My kids may have said like, “Hey, I did a really good job and I cleaned my room and I’ve done my laundry and it’s actually put away, not just stuffed in the laundry basket in my closet” and they’re kind of using what they’ve done and the ways that kind of benefits me or things that I like for them to do as a way to then kind of barter with me, which moves us into the next one, which is exchange.

So exchange is finding out what another person wants or needs and providing that in return for receiving one’s own wants and needs. This may involve negotiation skills so that both people are going to benefit. We can’t necessarily just decide, oh this is what I’m going to do, and then I’m going to ask for this. I have to be upfront and direct about that and say, “Hey, this is what I’m wanting, and I will do this in exchange.” And then we have to make sure that we’re following through and we’re doing those things that we agreed to in the exchange.

The next one is reasoning. So this uses persuasion and logical arguments to convince the other person to meet one’s own wants and needs, and I have to say my kids got pretty good at persuasion. I mentioned how I have prepared PowerPoint slides to present to my kids to teach them a certain concept or a particular skill, but I have also had that used for me.

I’ve had kids who, my one daughter when she wanted to go on her senior trip with just friends and no chaperones presented a PowerPoint, prepared the PowerPoint, had all of these points of persuasion and then presented it to her dad and I, saying hey, here’s what I want, here’s what I would like to do, and here’s all the reasons, and she had some pretty persuasive bullet points in her PowerPoint to try to get us to agree that these seniors in high school who had just graduated could go out of state on a senior class trip, and I will say it worked. That’s the other thing—if this is based on trust, then the other person is more likely to be open to these strategies and we will see it as a relationship dynamic.

Another one that we can use that is relationship constructive is humor. We may be able to kind of like… sometimes I will talk about flirting. Often we think about flirting in terms of romantic relationships, and that’s true. In your romantic relationships, you may flirt, not in a way that’s manipulative, not in a way that kind of leads somebody on or you’re agreeing to something that later on you will not agree to, but just in a way of being charming, of appealing to the person’s better sense of using some humor and charm in order to get what you want.

Now again, I will say if we only use one of these strategies, then pretty quickly it’s going to start feeling manipulative. If every time that I want something I’m coming at you and I’m reminding you of all the good things that I’m doing and I’m doing this kind of in this flirtatious, humorous way, then it may feel a little bit scripted. It may not feel as genuine or authentic, and the person we’re trying to get what we want from may not actually see the need or connect with us on what’s going on and why this is important to us.

So again, all these things we’ve just talked about are positive strategies for getting what we want, and they’re relationship constructive. They’re not going to do damage to the relationship. Then we come up to if we’ve gone through all of those things or we’ve tried multiple of those things and the answer we get is still no, then we need to accept no. No is the answer, and if we are to proceed along this continuum, what we will start to engage in to get what we want is going to be relationship descriptive. 

So I think the first item on the relationship destructive continuum, and I’ve added this later on in my career, is I put that I will guilt or I will shame somebody for getting what I want. Now a good example of this may be as a parent to a child. This is an example I hear that kind of comes up a lot in therapy, and I understand it might be an easier or a more convenient way to parent our kids or to try to get what we want, but overall it’s destructive to the relationship, and I see this a lot of times.

The example I’m going to use I see this as being enmeshed, where the parent might say, maybe what the parent wants is for the child to get straight As, or only As and Bs, and again that’s not a bad thing to want, but at what point or at what length are we willing to go to get what we want as the parent? And so again, I may guilt my child. I may cry and say “You just make me so sad when you come home with this report card and it’s less than As and Bs, and I feel blah, blah, blah…” I could go on and on. I think that’s manipulative. It’s making my child responsible for my emotions in order for me to get from you what I actually want, and behind that too may be this like I need to feel good about myself, and so you have to get good grades, so there’s the evidence of me being a good parent or me being a good person. So again when I start to use guilt or shame, that’s going to be relationship destructive. That can be pretty passive. It doesn’t have to be really aggressive in the guilt and the shame, but it will be destructive if we engage in that strategy.

The next one may be to seek sympathy. This may not be empathy. I think empathy would fall under the persuasion part, which is on the relationship constructive. But when we start to seek sympathy, we tend to go into playing the victim. You may recall in the episode on the drama triangle, typically the victim’s seat in the coveted seat in the drama triangle, and it’s the area that most people enter the drama triangle through. I start to feel like I’m a victim. That sets you up as the persecutor, and I’m enticing you to be the rescuer, not recognizing that none of these seats in the drama triangle are going to be healthy to the relationship or to the self.

So when I’m doing sympathy-seeking, I’m going to be playing upon the other person’s sympathy in order to get them to meet my need or my want. Some of these strategies will include pleading unfairness. That’s just so unfair! And again, I mean this is what my mom used to always say, I felt like she could have used a little more empathy sometimes, but it was one of her sayings. Well life is not fair. Life has never been fair. We could appear sick or inadequate. We could assume the position of the victim, again which kind of then chooses for the other person the roles that they play. They either get to rescue me and give me what I want, or I’m going to see them and cast them into the role of the persecutor, which means they’re the bad person. So again, seeking sympathy, relationship destructive.

The next one on the continuum is duty or a role that I play. Again this may be something I’m doing out of a duty or out of a role, but I’m not doing it with a genuine connectedness to the relationship. It may include rights and wrongs or moral obligations or family role expectations, but it doesn’t necessarily make space for the two people who are negotiating or talking about options or making requests and hearing a request be made.

The next one is conditional approval. Again this is going to be relationship destructive, and this includes being critical, rejecting another person, withdrawing or withholding any affection or the silent treatment where I just won’t talk to you and I just ignore you and you feel this coldness coming from me. It may be about making approval conditional upon one’s needs or wants that are being met, so I may also say “If you want this, then you have to do A, B, C, and D.” So you may be wondering, well how is that different from the exchange on the positive side? Again this one comes with it kind of this there’s not really an option to say no without there being meted out this conditional approval or this rejection or withholding of love and affection. So yes is really the only acceptable option, and no really isn’t an option, and the person who is given the choice or is asked or made the request from knows that they don’t really have an ability to say no without having some negative consequences associated with that.

The next one kind of goes along with this, but I think it deserves its own stopping ground on the continuum, and that would be punishment or meting out kind of these consequences in a passive-aggressive way. So again, this goes along with the conditional approval, but I think it’s important to talk about in the sense that this can last for a while. This can be more specific than just the conditional approval, where maybe somebody is sulking or making themselves kind of having a pity party for themselves. Instead, this is really like I am punishing you, and I will let you know it. Again, I might do this by the silent treatment, but it’s followed up with this cold, calculated feeling that comes with it that lets the other person know you did something that I don’t like.

The next one along the continuum is threats. So this is suggesting or implying that another person’s wants or needs will not be met or possibly they’re taken away unless my own wants and needs are met. Again sometimes you see this in power dynamics between a parent and a child, where the parent does have a lot of power, and they’re just going to kind of threaten, or maybe they actually follow through on the threat and just take things away simply because they have the power to do that. The way that that is relationship destructive is this is not relational. Somebody has a trump card and they play it and the other person just automatically loses.

The final one on the negative relationship continuum is about force. So this is overpowering another or taking what one wants and needs without concern for others. So this is really kind of the extreme opposite of being relational. This is about I want what I want, and I will take it, and I don’t care what I have to do to get that from you. So again, not consensual. It’s not relational. It really puts this care and concern for the individual over the relationship piece.

And like I said at the beginning, accepting no for an answer is based upon the belief that a good relationship with others ultimately gets me what I want, that as human beings we’re wired for connection, and being able to be known and seen and show up in relationships is going to be healthy and provide security that is beneficial to my psychological well-being. However, there may be things that I do that cross that line into the relationship destructive categories in order to get what I want. If you’re finding that that’s the situation in your relationship, I would probably suggest talking either to a close friend that you can trust or getting in for professional counseling because that may be an indication of a much larger issue that’s going on. If it’s going on with your kids, I think again professional help can always be good, but again we have to sit down and look at what’s going on with the kids and what is the power structure and what’s the relationship dynamic that is taking place in our family that moves us into these relationship destructive strategies?

Sometimes I think, again the relationship destructive ones are bargaining with power and control. If I don’t feel like my words or my voice have any persuasion or value or meaning or an ability to influence, then I may bypass those strategies and move more specifically into relationship destructive ones, which is more about me just making the move for power or me making the move for control instead of trying to be relational and sit down and talk and go back and forth and actually have a healthy dialog.

Now again, this may not have been the family that you grew up in where dialog was something that could happen, where kids were listened to. I know that my mom… I met her grandfather, so that would be my great-grandfather. I think he died when I was I want to say 10 or younger, and I don’t have a lot of memories of him. I didn’t like him. I did not feel like he was a nice person. He often would say like, “Kids are to be seen and not heard.” So again, if this is one of the beliefs that your parents had or that your parents were raised with, then that’s a completely different strategy to what we’re talking about because the relationship constructive ones really are about hearing and seeing and listening and caring about that person that we’re in a relationship with.

So again this may include our friendships, certainly will include our children, certainly will include our spouse, may include our extended family members, our siblings, and again, we may not be able to educate everybody on this. We can educate ourselves. Hopefully, our spouse is open to learning and implementing the strategies talked about. We certainly can start to teach our kids and hopefully rewind what we’ve done already and put in place that hasn’t been helpful and is starting to get more intense and more heated when wants and needs come up.