Asking vs. Telling – An Un-kept Secret

Why doesn’t she understand?  I told her how.”

It’s his own fault that happened.  I told him what he should do.”

“I told her and told her and told her and she still doesn’t do it right.”

Whether I’m working with business teams or couples, I regularly hear these comments.  Results clearly show they do not lead to effective communication or healthy relationships.  In fact, the telling behaviour tears relationships apart.

I’m curious; do you like to be told what to do? 

When someone tells me what to do, I get a picture in my mind from long ago.  I see myself as a 7-year old child in front of a crotchety old teacher with grey hair, double-chin, horn-rimmed glasses, floppy skin under her arms, and bad breath.  That pungent, old battle-axe is shaking her finger at me disgustedly, and telling me exactly what to do to get her approval – to do it her way. 

The fact is, I don’t take orders well.  If it seems like a duty, a “have-to”, or an order based on someone else’s wants, the likelihood of me completing the task is very small. 

On the other hand, if I am asked, I will do almost anything to help another person.  I will put my heart and soul into the request and go above and beyond the expectations.

I believe that most of us have a desire to give and help others – it’s a basic component of life, and the core to most businesses.  Every business I think about is “in business” to help their customers get what they need, solve problems for them, or help them to feel good.  The most successful businesses ask their customers what they want, in one way or another.

As an example, how would you feel if you entered a shoe store, and before your eyes adjusted to the light, the salesperson shoved a pair of shoes in a bag and said, “Give me your credit card and take these.  They’re what you need to wear.”  I’d be suggesting the salesperson take a trip – to somewhere really hot?

Telling builds walls of defense.  Telling puts distance between people.  Telling crumbles the foundation of a relationship – trust.

Asking brings people together.  Asking instills cooperation, and in a larger sense, asking creates community.  Asking builds trust and makes the relationship stronger.

With those points in mind, why would we tell someone else what to do when we can gain far greater results by asking?

How about a challenge, as a way for you to experiment with the power of asking? 

The challenge is to focus your intention and attention on asking for what you want.  Here are the how-to’s:

  1. Become consciously aware of your thoughts as they float through your mind.  For me, this is like stepping out of myself, where I can be an unattached observer of my thoughts. What would it take for you to do this?
  2. Any time you feel like saying, “You should …”, “You need to …”, “You better…”, “Do this/that…”, “Don’t do that”, or anything of that nature, what could you use to remind yourself to STOP and take a deep breath? 
  3. In that heart- and mind-space, I invite you to consider what, specifically, do you want the result of the interaction to be? Is it healthy and respectful for all involved?  Or is it a power-trip, manipulative, or based in your ego demands?
  4. How can you reframe the statement, so it is an “ask”.  Perhaps one of these sentence stems might work for you:  “Could you please …?”, “Would it be possible for you to …?”, “May I suggest you …?”, or “How would it work for you if you …?”  These questions open the dialogue for choices and possibilities, considering different perspectives.

What will happen?  (1) The person will gladly and gratefully fulfill your request, or (2) he/she won’t. 

Regardless, it will be an invitation for positive conversation.  When both are coming from a solution-oriented intention, the result is often far better than either thought possible.

In conclusion:

Do you want to build and enhance your relationships, and create greater happiness, joy, and success? 

If so, what would it take to make the above steps habitual? 

Imagine your life 6 months from now!!  What might be different, now that you are applying these asking steps every day?

But don’t tell anybody what you’re doing – it’s a secret.


Lisa Ivaldi

Thanks for the reminder Dan. I’ve noticed lately the telling and demanding tone in my own words to myself. You should … You need to … I’m trying to reframe them to a more curious tone. I wonder what would happen if … Makes it feel more inviting, more playful. Like you said, I don’t feel like I’m being scolded by a “pungent, old battle-axe” 🙂


Thanks for your reflection and reframe, Lisa. I think you’ve also nailed another key piece. Most of us tend to be hardest on ourselves. That is likely the most important communication we have, which totally affects the results we create and how we feel about ourselves.

Thanks for your wisdom.


Yes…Yes…Yes… In grief, we tend to tell people what they should do. We say don’t cry! Which tells someone two things…..You cannot handle them and stuff your emotions. They then choose not to grieve with you and call you angry. We tell people to be strong. Why? We are weak and He is strong. We tell people to go do something, get out to get your mind off the grief, yet they can barely make a cup of coffee. We tell people, “Can’t you just appreciate the good years you had with them or you can have another child!” We tell people to do this or that to change them so they act or behave in ways that make “us” feel better In that moment. Then in the next breath, we might use that old adage, “you cannot change people” while they are trying really hard to do just that. I love this article and wish to apply it to help me love those grieving with listening and asking. All it takes is to first show up, then to listen on a consistent basis. It really is easy…….I stopped doing this before my loss and my children love a less bossy mom and one who is more inviting and they actually choose to hang out with me now. However, some days simply asking doesn’t work with children. HaHa.


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