6 Ways to Get What You Want

When you ask your kids for more help around the house, do your requests fall on deaf ears? Do some people find it easy to say no to you at times? 

Women, and especially mothers, excel at taking care of the needs of everyone around us. But when it comes to persuading someone to do something for us, it can feel awkward or be difficult, says Laurie Puhn, a lawyer and author of Instant Persuasion: How to Change Your Words to Change Your Life.

Well, not anymore! You can learn to be persuasive -- and do so without being bullish. The path to getting what you need is filled with obstacles, but if you present your case the right way, you will find success. Here’s how:

1. Remember that rules can be broken.
Don’t let a policy prevent you from asking for what you need or want. “Just because something is always done a certain way doesn’t mean you can’t be the exception,” says Puhn.

For example, if you want to return something after 35 days, but a store policy states 30 days is the limit, ask anyway. Simply be polite and apologetic. (Remember the saying “You attract more bees with honey than vinegar.”)

2. Give a good reason.
To be successful, you must state your case -- all of it. Utilize what Puhn calls “The Because Clause.” “Research shows you’re more likely to get what you want if you use the word ‘because’ and give a reason for making the request,” she asserts. Helping people understand why you’re asking makes them more sympathetic to your cause.

So, the next time you want to change tables at a crowded restaurant, don’t announce, “We want to move to that booth, please.” Try, “I’d like to move because this area is so loud I can’t hear my friend speak.”

If it’s a raise you’re after, tell your boss you deserve it because of specific contributions you have made -- and name them. 

3. Be results-oriented.
Only presenting a problem (e.g., “I haven’t gotten a raise in two years!”) puts the other person on the defense right away. And if someone feels attacked, they are less likely to come up with a solution, says Puhn.

Likewise, if you place blame or waste time disagreeing over who is right and who is wrong (“No, the cable has been out since yesterday!”), it may only lead to a full-blown argument, not results.

Instead, summarize the problem without blaming anyone, then immediately suggest a few solutions. Proposing a resolution from the get-go makes it easier for the other person to simply say OK, recommends Puhn.

4. Ask for the moon. Get the stars.
Not sure what to propose? Whether you ultimately want more help around the house or retribution from the cable company, start by asking for something big, then negotiate. “When the person feels like they’re getting you to back down, they feel better about giving in to a compromise,” says Puhn.

Fed up with gathering dirty clothes off your teenager’s bedroom floor, for instance? Calmly propose she start doing her own laundry. When she balks, negotiate the smaller task of her bringing clothes to the laundry room and sorting them herself.

5. Acknowledge the other side.
When trying to persuade someone, it’s important to listen to and address his or her objections. “If you listen first, you can adjust your request based on the new information,” says Puhn.

If you meet with resistance (which is likely when asking for a raise or something else substantial), try turning the tables. Ask your boss: “What do I need to do to get a raise?” Then, come back three or six months later and show that you’ve met those requirements, suggests Puhn.

6. Don’t take no for an answer.
If you can’t get exactly what you want, keep negotiating, and you may at least get something, advises Puhn.

Your boss can’t afford to give you a raise? Acknowledge her position by saying, “I understand there’s no budget for a $10,000 salary hike, but I would like a sign from the company that it values me as an employee.” See what she says but be ready to put to use tricks No. 3 or 4: Propose they give you more vacation days or allow a more flexible schedule.

No matter the situation, if you approach it with confidence and use these tricks, over time you will develop the powers of persuasion. You may not always get exactly what you want, but you will gain satisfaction in trying. 

Bounce Back Fast From a Mistake

Hope Schmid will never forget the mistake that caused her 6-year-old daughter to come home from school crying. “I was supposed to bring in cookies for her homeroom party,” remembers Schmid, 32, of Fairfax Station, Va. “But I had a project due at work and my mom was going in for medical tests. It completely slipped my mind. I felt like a terrible mother.”

Most people can relate to a mistake like Schmid’s -- and the feelings that come with it. Forgetting to do something important or saying the wrong thing does a number on your self-esteem. “When we mess up, doubts we have about ourselves and our underlying insecurities go into overdrive,” says Leslie Sokol, who holds a doctorate in clinical psychology and is the co-author of Think Confident, Be Confident. You might dwell on the mistake, feel bad about yourself and spend the rest of the day beating yourself up -- or taking it out on others. 

But everyone makes mistakes. “A rare occurrence or utterance isn’t proof that you’re a cruel or bad person,” says Sokol. It’s what you do afterward that makes a difference. Reacting in a positive way, right away, can help put you back in control and allow you to move on and regain your self-esteem.

Check out Sokol’s strategies for how to cope with the following familiar scenarios. Put the advice into practice and you’ll come out feeling better about the mistake and yourself.  

Scenario No. 1: You miss an important meeting because you’re late.

Bounce-back Strategy: Take action.

Apologize to the people you were supposed to meet, then find a way to rectify the situation ASAP, suggests Sokol. If the meeting went on without you, ask a co-worker to tell you what was discussed. Once updated, you can prepare for the next meeting and take action on any next steps.

If the meeting was canceled because of your absence, take the lead in rescheduling it as quickly as possible. Be flexible with your calendar to accommodate everyone else’s. Putting yourself in charge of righting the situation helps you feel capable again. Getting up to speed or securing another meeting time right away also prevents you from dwelling on your goof.

Scenario No. 2: You say something dumb to your boss or in a meeting.

Bounce-back Strategy: Keep perspective.

Acknowledge the mistake immediately by saying something like, “I put my foot in my mouth; let’s take a step backward.” Then, try not to obsess or beat yourself up over it, because that just turns your comment into a much bigger deal than it actually is.

“Remember that one sentence isn’t a reflection of who you are,” says Sokol. “How many comments have you made in your life? At one point or another, everyone says something stupid.”

If you have trouble letting it go -- or your co-workers don’t let you -- keep reminding yourself that it’s normal to make mistakes and try to laugh about it. “The key is to accept that you have shortcomings without letting them mean something global about you,” says Sokol.

Be proactive and plan to be extra-sharp in the next meeting. And believe it or not, there may even be a silver lining: “When we blunder, we show our human side. It can allow others to relate to us and appreciate us as the non-perfect people we all are,” says Sokol.

Scenario No. 3: You forget to send cupcakes for your child’s school party.

Bounce-back Strategy: Own up to it, without excessive explanations or blaming others.

Admit your mistake -- if you forgot, you forgot -- and say you are sorry to your child and her teacher. You can offer a brief explanation if there are extenuating circumstances that you can share openly and honestly. “But make sure your main message is that you messed up and are sorry regardless of the reason,” says Sokol.

Also avoid over-apologizing or offering multiple explanations. (“I didn’t write it down, and the dog got sick and my boss …”) Both are symptoms of doubt, says Sokol. And feeding into any doubts about your abilities as a mother does more to undermine your self-esteem than to comfort your kid or her teacher.

Instead, send cupcakes to make up for the ones you forgot. And keep telling yourself that this one mistake (or even 50 more) does not negate all the other qualities that make you a great mother.

Scenario No. 4: You got a haircut that turned out very, very bad.

Bounce-back Strategy: Focus on the whole picture.

You’re probably embarrassed, so you’ve got to do some self-talk to get past this temporary situation. Tell yourself that feeling beautiful and attractive comes from a combination of many things -- personality, intellect, humor, talent and endless other unique characteristics -- not just what your hair looks like, says Sokol.

Plus, even on the outside, people see more of you than a bad haircut. “They notice how you put yourself together as a whole, including your friendly eyes and warm smile,” says Sokol. “Don’t over-inflate the importance of one perceived flaw.” 

Scenario No. 5: During an argument, you say hurtful things you don’t mean.

Bounce-back Strategy: Be honest and take responsibility. 

As soon as you can, apologize and ask for forgiveness. Explain that you know you hurt the other person and that the comment was your anger talking, not what you truly believe.

For example, after a fight with a spouse, to show that you’re sincere, give him examples to counter your comment, suggests Sokol. If you said your spouse was stupid, tell him, “You know I don’t actually think you’re stupid. Who do I always go to for questions about [insert topic here]?” Or, “Whenever I can’t help the kids with their homework, you always have the answers.”

Also important: Admit that you were wrong. “Say something like, ‘I was upset, but I also know that saying hurtful things is not the right way to handle myself,’” she adds.

It’s normal to feel disappointed in yourself, but once you apologize and take remedial action, you have to let it go, says Sokol. All you can do after that is avoid making the same mistake again.

Good-for-you Spaces: 8 Ways to Make Your Home Healthier

You already know that to stay well, you need to eat healthy foods, exercise and get plenty of sleep. But you need to keep your home healthy too! Your house’s air quality and the products you use every day can all have an effect on your health and that of your family. Here’s how to make your home a safer and healthier place to live:

  • Get rid of mold. “Mold is a very important public health problem,” says award-winning epidemiologist Dr. Devra Davis, co-founder of the Environmental Health Trust. The black yucky stuff can make allergy symptoms worse and even contribute to breathing problems. To keep mold at bay, inspect your home for leaks and condensation and keep rooms as dry as possible. If you find mold, Davis recommends scrubbing it with a paste of hydrogen peroxide and baking soda. But if the problem is widespread, call your local public health department to take care of it.

  • Consider natural cleaning solutions. Some commercial household cleaners contain ingredients that can be harmful or even fatal if inhaled or swallowed (e.g., bleach or petrochemicals). For many cleaning jobs, though, you can use products with plant-based ingredients. Or you can do your DIY cleaning with baking soda, lemon juice and vinegar, which are all natural cleaners and disinfectants.

  • Use reusable microfiber rags and mops. Reusable dust rags save you money and help the environment. And reusable mops use less water and, says Davis, “you can remove and switch the head of the mop so when you go from room to room, you can reduce the chance of spreading infection.”

  • Take your shoes off in the house. Dirt, germs and chemicals -- particularly lawn pesticides -- cling to the soles of your shoes and get tracked through your home. Making a no-shoes rule will keep dirt and germs at bay while also reducing the frequency with which you need to clean.

  • Test your home for radon. This odorless gas comes from the earth under your house, and long-term exposure can lead to cancer. You can pick up an inexpensive testing kit at most hardware stores.
  • Clean your shower curtain regularly. The combination of constant moisture, dirt and soap scum makes your shower curtain a haven for bacteria. Machine-wash it along with a cup of vinegar, and then hang it up to dry.
  • Put the lid down every time. If your kids often forget to put the toilet lid down before they flush, remind them of this simple (and gross!) fact: When you flush with the lid open, the whole bathroom can get covered with a fine spray of fecal bacteria. Not something you want near your toothbrush!
  • Stay on top of dust. Dust doesn’t just aggravate allergies; it also contains the household chemicals that linger in your home. Dust regularly with reusable cloths. Also consider removing any wall-to-wall carpets, which tend to collect dust and dirt.

Photo: @iStockphoto.com/mediaphotos

Are You Your Own Worst Enemy?

Are you always swamped with daily chores, hard at work on the latest fundraising committee or too busy to even go out for a cup of coffee? Surprise: You’re your own worst enemy.

Many of us are too busy listening to our inner critics and taking care of others to give ourselves credit -- and to treat ourselves with kindness. Instead, we behave in self-destructive ways, which only makes us cranky, stressed and resentful while holding us back from happiness and success.

“We live in a culture that looks at what’s wrong rather than celebrating what’s right,” says M. Nora Klaver, a Chicago-based executive coach and the author of Mayday! Asking for Help in Times of Need. “Our self-talk is negative -- ‘I’ll always have too much to do’ and ‘I’ll never have time for me,’” she says. “By making those statements, you’re creating that reality.”

Here’s how to break out of these common worst-enemy behaviors and become your own best friend.

Worst Enemy Behavior: You’re too focused on your to-do list.

Why You Do It: You feel successful when you get all those little chores done at work and home, but you end up like a hamster on a treadmill: running in place and getting nowhere.

Be Your Best Friend: Of course you should get the job(s) done! But if you’re too emotionally absorbed in nitty-gritty tasks at work, you risk missing opportunities to showcase your leadership or network beyond the cubicle next to yours. And at home, if you’re consumed with managing your kids’ homework and after-school activities, you’ll miss opportunities to connect as a family and create lasting memories.

So take a step back. Praise yourself for all the things you do, and then focus on the big picture. Build time into your work schedule for higher-profile assignments. At home, create special time for your family to do fun things together.

Worst Enemy Behavior: You don’t delegate at home.

Why You Do It: You’re convinced that no one can do (fill in the blank) as fabulously as you.

Be Your Best Friend: Does it really matter how the dishwasher is loaded? Or how neatly your second-grader’s bed is made? Drop the superwoman shtick and accept a good-enough standard for things that don’t involve safety or health. Remind yourself that your home doesn’t have to be perfect. Then start delegating to your spouse and kids.

“If you’re pulled in multiple directions, you’ll feel as though you have no control over your time,” cautions Klaver. “It will lead to stress and resentment, not to mention irritability.” Besides, you’re probably doing things that you don’t enjoy (cleaning the kitchen floor) and that don’t play to your strengths (balancing the checkbook), so you’re not using your time as wisely as you could.

Worst Enemy Behavior: You’re a yes-woman who takes on too many outside projects.

Why You Do It: You’re a people-pleaser who wants to do right by everyone. You may fear you’ll lose social standing or look weak if you decline a volunteer opportunity at school or church.

Best Friend Behavior: Get clear about what’s really important to you and what you do well. Then say “Yes” to your own priorities and “No” to projects that you don’t really care about or that don’t fit into your jam-packed schedule. “Decide how much time you can give to outside activities, and stick to it,” advises Klaver. “At first, you may feel guilty that you’re not doing what everybody else wants you to do, but you’ll learn to let go of the guilt.”

Worst Enemy Behavior: You never take “me” time.

Why You Do It: You’re confusing your role in life (mother, partner, employee) with your purpose in life. Sure, you need to raise your kids, support your husband, run the house and meet work deadlines. But, as Klaver points out, “Your purpose in life is to live from your gifts and strengths. You need free time to explore what they are, and quiet time to be creative.”

Best Friend Behavior: Make a date to do something for yourself -- even if it’s just for 15 minutes a day -- and don’t let anything rob you of that time. You might savor a cup of coffee while reading some favorite blogs; meditate on your train commute; or take a walk at lunch and people-watch. Gradually increase to larger time blocks that will allow you to pursue other activities: taking a class, going to the gym, seeing a movie. “Protect this time as much as you’d protect your child’s soccer practice,” advises Klaver. After all, you’re entitled to a life beyond carpools and PowerPoint presentations. You need to spend more time with your new best friend: you!

Photo: @iStockphoto.com/asiseeit

Are You a Drama Mama? Know When to Back Off

Your child has a fight with a friend. She’s in tears; you’re furious and ready to defend her. But should you? In this age of helicopter parenting, it’s hard not to step in when you see your child in a social dilemma. But that’s not always the answer.

“In recent years, I’ve seen a trend of mothers confronting other mothers -- by phone or email, or in person -- to resolve their kids’ social issues; I call it ‘Mama Drama,’” says Joyce Marter, a psychotherapist and the owner of Urban Balance LLC in Chicago. “It’s problematic on several levels: It not only crosses boundaries, but also prevents kids from developing coping skills and learning that it’s not a perfect world where everybody always gets along and gets included.”

Laurie Zelinger, a child psychologist and the author of Please Explain Anxiety to Me! Simple Biology and Solutions for Children and Parents, agrees. “Social slights occur and recur throughout life,” she says. “You lived through them, so your child deserves the opportunity to live through them too.”

Here are some common kid dramas your child may face, and how to help her survive them -- without being a drama mama.

Drama: Your second-grader is hurt because she didn’t get invited to a classmate’s birthday party.

Solution: Don’t call the birthday child’s mom and demand an invite for your child. Not only is this rude, but it also puts the mom in an awkward position if she has limited space or money for the party.

Instead, help your child deal with her disappointment by sharing your own sadness about times when you were left out of parties or clubs. Remind her that she didn’t invite the entire class to her last birthday party, and, if the classmate isn’t a close friend of hers, point that out. Finally, suggest a get-together with her true pals. “The real problem might be that she needs more social interaction,” says Marter.

Drama: Your son complains that no one plays with him at recess.

Solution: Talk to your child about being excluded, and make supportive statements -- “I bet you never expected that to happen” -- to validate his feelings. “If you ask too many questions, you’ll sound like a detective and put him on the defensive,” cautions Fred Zelinger, a child and family psychologist in Cedarhurst, N.Y. “You’ll end up getting less information than you would in a normal parent-child conversation, where he tells you something and you respond with a comment.”

Call or email his teacher, explain the situation and ask if she’s noticed anything that might be causing the problem. Maybe your child is being left out because he doesn’t play fair or gloats too much when he wins. “You can’t force other kids to play with him at recess, but you can coach him on his behavior and how to engage a different group of kids,” says Marter. “Urge him to be assertive and say things like, ‘I want to play this game too.’”

Drama: Your 10-year-old is on the outs with her BFF -- whose mom just happens to be a good friend of yours.

Solution: Since you’re close with the other mother, it’s OK for both of you to help the girls resolve their differences, according to Marter. First, ask your daughter what caused the rift, keeping in mind that she’s telling only one side of the story. Be supportive -- “It hurts when your friend is mad at you, doesn’t it?” -- and suggest she try a heart-to-heart to end the fight.

From there, discuss the issue with your friend -- without placing blame on anyone: “It’s hard to watch our girls go through this. It’s probably just a misunderstanding. Let’s get them to sit down and work it out.” Says Marter: “Give your child the tools she needs to have an effective conversation with her friend, but don’t have the conversation for her.”

Photo: @iStockphoto.com/Jason_V