I have a confession.
I talk to pigs... specifically my daughter’s guinea pigs.
More specifically, they talk to me.
(No, I don’t hear voices; they don’t speak English).
They chirp, squeak, and squeal to communicate their wants and needs to me.
Their needs almost always revolve around wanting more food or water (when my girls forget to fill their food bowl or water bottle).
They are very loud and very insistent. (Who knew?)
When all their needs have been met, they are very quiet.
They are surprisingly consistent... as in 100% perfectly consistent.
I’ve learned a lot from talking with pigs. They’ve taught me that asking for what you want dramatically increases your chances of getting it.
It turns out that’s a very good rule for communicating with people too.
1) It’s unfair to get upset at someone for failing to do something you never asked them to do.
In this scenario, the problem lies with you, as you never made a clear and direct request for what you wanted.
2) If you ask for what you want, and the other person agrees but then doesn’t do it, that’s a problem with the other person.
Either they said “yes" when they meant “no” (which is at worst a form of “lying” under the guise of being “nice,” or at best being inaccurate with one’s word), or they lack the ability or willingness to follow through on their word.
3) If you ask for what you want, and the other person says "no," that’s an honest conflict. The other person is honest with their ability, willingness, or intentions in response to your request.
In this scenario, you can gently inquire if there are a specific set of conditions under which the other person would say “yes” to your request.
(For example: "I can’t make the Monday morning deadline, but I could get it done by Tuesday morning. Or if I can get a later deadline on this other project, I could make the Monday deadline.")
You can also ask if there’s an alternative to your request that the other person would be willing to agree to instead of your original request.
(For example: "I can’t get it all done on Monday, but I could get the most important 70% done by Monday. Would that work?")
The first two scenarios revolve around lack of clarity or integrity. Persistent behavior in both of these scenarios tends to take a negative toll on relationships.
The last scenario is about negotiating and attempting to find common ground. You don’t always find it, and that’s okay.
Done properly, the relationship is at least maintained and often enhanced through these honest conflicts. At a minimum, if someone doesn’t hesitate to say “no” to you, you have much greater confidence that when they say “yes,” they genuinely mean it.
On the flip side, if the other person sees how consistently you ask for what you want, they come to trust that you won’t get upset at them for failing to do things you expected but never actually asked for.
As I read my own words on this topic, I’m somewhat bemused at what talking to pigs has taught me (or at least reminded me) to do.
Sometimes you get the best insights from the oddest places. Go figure.
To summarize, here are some things to consider doing:
1) Ask explicitly for what you want.
2) Don’t say “yes” when you really mean “no.” (You’re not doing anyone any favors.)
3) If you say “yes,” follow through.
If you find yourself resentful in fulfilling the request, that’s a sign you didn’t really mean "yes." Next time, say "no" instead. (And it’s okay to change your mind in midstream as well, but better for everyone if you say "no" up front.)
4) Appreciate it when someone else says "no" to your request. It’s useful to know the edges of someone else’s limits, interests, or capacity.
A "no" can be a re-direction of where else to look for common ground. It can also be a sign to redirect your energy elsewhere.