Asking for What You Want

by Amy Azzarito

Grace asked me to write this article last week after I “returned” a salad to a local sandwich shop because it was not worth the $10 that I had paid for it. Becoming a person who asks for what she wants has not come naturally. Like many people (dare I say particularly women), I always feel like when I ask for things, I’m fighting against that part of me that wants to be rewarded for not asking. I feel like someone will notice my supreme sacrifice and quiet patience – above all, what a good person I am for not being demanding – and all my wishes will come true because I didn’t ask and was good and quiet.

But the more experience I have in the real world (not the fantasy world in my mind), the more I realize this is not the case. People are simply too busy trying to get through their own days and their own lives to figure out the secret wishes floating around in my head. So about this time last year, I started an experiment. It came out of a phone conversation with my dad, who was doing research for his book. He told me about a concept called Rejection Therapy. I’ve spoken about it on After the Jump, but the basic concept is that most of us are so afraid of hearing the word “no,” that we neglect to ask for things.

When I heard about the concept, I was immediately transported back to my first job in New York. I was working for a company that sold book binding supplies and was hired on the same day for the same job as another girl. She and I, both new to the city, became good friends and one day she let her salary amount slip. She was making about $100 more per week than I was. At the time, this was a huge difference. I was just barely scraping by on the amount I was making. I was so shocked that I asked how she got more money. She told me that when she was offered the job, she just told them that she needed more. I felt like the wind was knocked out of me. I couldn’t believe it was so simple. She just asked. –Amy

Read more about asking for what you want after the jump!

And you would have thought I learned my lesson, but asking is hard, particularly when you hate hearing the word “no.” One of the reasons that I hate hearing it, is that I hate the feeling that I’m inconveniencing others. But that experience (and others – because I can promise you, the lesson didn’t stick that first time around) has taught me the importance of being honest about what you need and what you want. While I knew this on an intellectual level, I still wasn’t very practiced at hearing “no.” It’s amazing how you can insulate yourself so that you never have to hear “no.”

So I decided to challenge myself by playing the Rejection Therapy game (there’s actually an app). The way the game works is that you have only completed a successful challenge when you have heard the word “no.” I only played for a week, but for that entire week, I asked for things that I knew I wouldn’t get. I asked for a discount at my regular nail salon and was so nervous that I was afraid the nail technician would notice my hands shaking. I asked a woman for change for five dollars on the subway, I asked someone on the street to give me twenty dollars. Each time, I was so nervous. I was asking these things in order to hear the word “no.”

Even though I only played for a short time, the challenge made me aware of how often I skirt around asking. In my real life, I would ask for things and pad the question so as to give the other person an easy out. It made me aware of how important it is to know what you want and to come right out and ask for it.

I haven’t completely conquered my fears, but I am a little less afraid of asking for what I want. So when I looked down at my $10 salad last week and saw a tiny sprinkling of cheese, a cup of lettuce and a handful of radishes, I marched right back to the shop. I started by telling them that I was a huge fan of the shop, but that I was disappointed by the salad and asked if it was possible to get something else. I was as nice as I could be while still asking for what I wanted. And what happened? I got a new salad and a free cookie for my trouble – not too bad!

Suggested For You


  • I have a problem with asking for things that I want too. This article is right on time for me. I am off to install the Rejection Therapy game app on my phone.


  • This is a wonderful article. It’s always been my personality to be “nice”. I’ve always been afraid as being perceived as pushy or overbearing if I really asked for what I want. As a business founder, it’s been something I’ve had to work on overcoming. If you never express what you want or expect, it’s unlikely you’ll ever get it. In the end it’s about respecting yourself as much as you show respect for others.

  • I practice this on a daily basis (it does not come naturally) — but I always tell myself, as my old therapist told me, “The worst thing anyone can say to you is ‘no'” — and then it doesn’t seem quite as bad.

  • “People are simply too busy trying to get through their own days and their own lives to figure out the secret wishes floating around in my head”. I burst out laughing with recognition when I read this sentence – yes, aren’t you all in my head just KNOWING what I want? And that idea of being rewarded for not making waves.

    It is definitely something to practice. A surface illustrator friend is in the midst of a “50 no” challenge which is similar to what you are talking about. And I’m joining in. I think ESPECIALLY if you are changing careers or self-employed, you must ask for the sale, ask for what you need/what, etc. (You mean people won’t just look at my photography portfolio and know that I’m looking for work????) <—— more than a grain of truth for me

  • PURRRRfect timing!! Just got home from the gym where I asked at the desk that they stop letting people into the Body Combat class halfway thru ( the offenders take another class, dont have passed and barge in while we are kicking and shuffling and endanger the others as they weave thru the crowd). The gal at the desk blew me off ..the manager came over and he actually went and stood at the door such that when the bullies approached he turned them away!!! I had already complained in the past and emailed..This time I asked them to MAKE THEM STOP!!!
    thank you !!

  • This is such a great post. Women especially feel like if we keep our heads down and do a good job, some magical fairy will grant us our wishes. Unfortunately, that’s not how the world spins. Thanks for the boost of confidence.

  • Such a great article! I have often said that I feel that the reason women often have trouble being managers is because we are raised to be the nice girl – no guy would like us if we are annoying, right? Therefore, when we get into a management role, we don’t know how to delegate work – we apologize for giving an assistant work, or we overreach and come across as too demanding. This is a great example of us not wanting people to think badly of us, so we just go along.

  • It felt like I was reading an article about myself. Thank you for putting it so elequently. I think a lot of women are taught to be “good” to their own detriment. Very refreshing to read!

  • This is such a perfectly timed post for what is going on in my life. My friend and I just launched a Kickstarter campaign (Fabrack) and we’ve definitely realized this is true. In order to get our product known, we have to ask a lot. We had to ask a manufacturer to work with us. We have to ask people to support and back us. We have to ask people to write and talk about us.

    “But that experience (and others – because I can promise you, the lesson didn’t stick that first time around) has taught me the importance of being honest about what you need and what you want.”

    We’re hoping that being honest about our needs and wants in regards to our Kickstarter campaign, that we will get the support we need.

  • I love this! I was so lucky to have parents who taught me this and modeled it throughout my life. I learned that if you don’t ask for it, you just don’t get it. As an adult, it’s been really hard for me to stick to that idea, without being afraid that I’m actually being rude or high maintenance. GOOD LUCK with continuing to practice this! Go you!

  • This is probably one of the most difficult things for me! I remember one friend telling me once “If you don’t ask, you’ll never get” (I’d just spent 30 minds hoping he’d offer me a glass of water to no avail… He was trying to prove a point.) It really stuck with me. While it’s still hard for me, I try to make a point to recognize when I’m being ridiculous, and then I challenge myself to go one step further and straight up as for what I want. A daily challenge for sure, but at least now I know I’m not alone in my neuroses ;)

  • I so enjoyed reading everyone’s comments. It’s so sad that so many of us feel this way. Your story about feeling your hands shaking when asking for a discount at the nail salon is the exact way I feel when asking for things. It’s so ridiculous! One thing I’ve been saying in my head for the last few years is “What are they going to do? Spank me?” This is something my husband’s father told him when growing up. Obviously, it’s meant for a kid (the spanking), but it works. I’ve said it in my head a few times to get myself to do things and it’s enough to suppress the fear.

  • This is so true. Women of my generation were taught to be “good girls,” i.e., never speak up for themselves. It is very difficult to overcome this lesson without feeling like one has crossed the boundaries of rudeness. I wish that every woman had the courage to ask for what they deserve.

  • What a great post! Some of the best advice I’ve ever received is “noes are free”. It can never hurt to ask!

  • I gotta admit, I’m terrified of complaining in food service situations, for the simple fact that *those people have access to my food.* I tend to just… not go back.

    I’m guessing you’ve seen the video that came out of the rejection game, of a donut store making some dude a configuration of donuts that looks like the olympic rings? Pretty cute :-)

  • Really a good point and something I hope we can teach young women early in life. It’s so important to be able to stand up for yourself…especially when negotiating job benefits and salary! The earlier the better!

  • Wish I’d read this a week and a half ago when a client asked my hourly rate. I lowballed because I didn’t want a “no”. His reply, “Great!” Augh! I should have boldly stated what my work is worth!!!

    Thanks for the lesson for next time. :)

  • This resonated with me. Just this week I was asked to move a dinner date to a night I had a birthday party which was for someone I recently met but would be a potentially great relationship and could be a good business lead. Instead of saying I’m not available because of the birthday party and asking for another day, I worked the logic in my brain to convenience myself that I barely know the person so therefore, I don’t need to go to the party and can go to my parents dinner to celebrate their 45th wedding anniversary. Again if I would just have asked for what I wanted I could mostly likely have gone to both the dinner and the party.

  • oh this is so me. i just paid $400 for a haircut/colour i dont even like. i had know idea it would be so $$$ either but they always up-sell and I’m too polite to say no!! haha.. everyone is telling me to go to the hairdresser and tell them its not what i asked for but i’d rather just not go back to that salon than have the confrontation. oh dear.

  • yes love this article, I am almost 3o and still have trouble doing this , always afraid of dissapointing someone because I troubled them , I don’t know what’s wrong with me, but I will try the rejection challenge. Thank You for the post :)

  • “pad the question so as to give the other person an easy out” This is me in a nutshell. I don’t mind hearing “no,” I just hate to think I’m making people feel uncomfortable. Including myself. I’ll give the Rejection Game a try!

  • Thoroughly loved reading this and you are so right. My sister and I treated ourselves to a glass of champagne in London a while back as we hardly get to see each other and we decided, yes it’s expensive but it’s a treat. We sat around the champagne bar and watched the barmab pour our drnks from one champagne bottle (that finished), then from another (that finished) and then another (that finished) so basically a glass full of all the last bits of a bottle ! I didn’t want to fuss as it was a special occasion but I thought ‘no’ this isn’t good enough and hate to say it they wouldn’t have done it to a man ordering. I did it politely and risked getting rejection back but actually they opened a new bottle for us so I was happy. I need to print off your post and pin it up so I remember to do it more !

  • I’d always been a classic non-confrontational adapter, but when I lost my corporate job I got additional severance, medical coverage and money for training–only because I asked for it. “Don’t Ask / Don’t Get” became my new go-to philosophy.

  • I think I am most definitely in that camp. For the second day running I have had to buy lunch because the facilities at work have broken. I can’t afford to buy lunch. especially not two days in a row – but did I say anything? I made a bit of a joke but didn’t demand that they did something so that I could eat the lunch I bought and left sat in the fridge for two days!

  • this is an amazing post and so glad you shared your experience. seriously so good to be confident in who you are and what you want. thanks for sharing!!

  • Fascinating! And I just have to say again that I am just loving all of these deeply personal and thoughtful posts of 2014. You guys have created a really rewarding place to revisit!

  • Every part of t his is so good – thank you!! I didn’t realize how big of an issue this is for me too until reading this.

  • Thanks for this post and sharing Rejection Therapy. Who knew there was a process for recovery!

    The other side of No and rejection is my struggle in saying NO to others. 2011 was my Year of Practicing No. It was life changing to give myself permission to say No. It opened space for things I really wanted to say Yes to. Very powerful feeling.
    http://hansen-Rd. com/2012/01/10/the-power-of-a-word

  • What a great, thoughtful piece. Such a great reminder. And this…”People are simply too busy trying to get through their own days and their own lives to figure out the secret wishes floating around in my head.” …is an awesome reality check!

  • I’m struggling with “no”. Have started my own business – first client has rejected my original work and halved her order from me. I custom made these items for her. She now has called and wants more of what she originally rejected. I need the money, yes! But do I need this clients’ troublesome ordering style? No.
    So having read your article, I resolve again – NO!
    Now I just need to call her back and tell her…”unfortunately, no.”

  • I love Design Sponge, love the tours, the businness ladies articles, the floral posts but…I must say just this essay justifies the existence of the website over the years, such a great and honest post, thank you so much for sharing thoughts like these!

  • I love Design Sponge but feel that this post lacks an essential caveat: being reasonable and fair. As a business owner for 15 yrs we bend over backwards to offer good service to our customers. The salad example is reasonable but you’d be surprised how many unreasonable requests a business gets. It’s not a simple matter of “ask and you shall receive.” People need to ask if themselves how they would feel if they were on the other side of the transaction. Annie B’s comment above is an example of what I’m referring to. People will respect you for asking for something reasonable. Your relationship will be damaged if you ask for something that is not reasonable.

  • I am such a huge fan of this!!! First, I’m a huge believer and fan of the Law of Attraction, and saying, ‘I want that..’ or ‘wouldn’t it be cool if this happened…’ For the Law of Attraction to work, you have to ask for what you want. I tried it on small things at first (like a free cup of coffee), then bigger things (like life changes and business goals). And it has worked almost every time. I know I probably sound like a complete loon, but asking for what you want, no matter how crazy it sounds, is so important to move forward in life. Before, I often felt regretful, or upset that someone had something and I didn’t. Now I say, well, why can’t I have that, and ask myself if I really want it. If yes, then I ask for it and focus on it. Don’t get me wrong you have to put in the elbow grease and show intention. I could seriously chew your ears off with this, so I’ll stop now. Great post!

  • Thank you SO MUCH for writing this article; it hit me like a brick!!!! I usually don’t ask because I really feel bad for people behind the counter as I was once over there, but sometimes there is a good reason to ask, and when that happens, I will think of your article, and then ‘ask.’ :)

  • Rule 1. Ask. If they say no, you’re no worse off than you were before. And they might say yes.
    Rule 2. Do you want everyone to like you, but you never get what you want – or some people to like you, and you maybe get everything you want…?
    Rule 3. Smile when you ask!

    Keep it up, Amy…

  • As an artisan I will sometimes give a little more if people ask for it, BUT I get angry when people want one-of-a-kind HAND MADE item discounted. It’s just insulting to me, so that is when my items are not available to them at any price. So folks, keep that in mind when you start bargaining with artists.

  • ‘If you don’t ask the answer is always NO’

    Good for you on being brave and writing this article as it sounds like it was desperately needed !

  • @Nina – “What are they going to do? Spank you?” is brilliant, new mantra there. Thanks!!

  • I love this post, too. You guys knocked it out of the ball park this week! I go one step further and then cop a resentment when I don’t get what I want just because I was afraid to ask. I felt anxious just thinking about you asking for a discount at the nail salon. I can’t imagine doing it myself.

  • I started to ask for what I want and stand up for myself only after I gave birth to my two beautiful children. Somehow knowing that I had this huge responsibility of growing these kids into compassionate, intelligent and inquisitive adults gave me the inner strength I needed to stand firm.

  • Thank you for this awesome essay! I just took the D*S survey and didn’t rate essays as too high up in what I like about the site. Changed my mind!

  • This is wonderful. You’ve basically summed up my thoughts up until now, the revelation I had trying to schedule 2-3 part time jobs the past month for enough hours to make what I need, and then some.
    I generally don’t like asking for help. I hate asking for favors because I feel like I’m imposing on others and would become a burden if I did ask for something. But I’d happily take on pretty much anything anyone asked me to do (which isn’t a bad thing – I just didn’t know how to say ‘no’ properly).
    This essay really clicked with me, and inspired me to be a little more confident in how I see myself and others, and especially what I should get for what I offer. Thank you so much!