What Do You Want From Me?

My old friend had a famous catchphrase.

If I complained that my baby wasn’t sleeping well, she’d say, “What are you looking for? Do you want problem solving or sympathy? Because I’ve got both in my toolkit.”

When another friend of ours mentioned that family drama was getting her down, this friend would say, “What do you need: a shoulder to cry on, or advice?”

At first my friend’s questions struck me as tactless: I wasn’t used to coming right out and saying what I wanted.

But my friend was sassy and fun: we all knew her heart was in the right place. And to my surprise, I found I appreciated her straightforward approach. She listened well and gave great advice–but only if you asked her for it.

My friend moved out of town years ago, but I always think about her when I’m talking with a friend and find myself wishing she would just tell me what she wants from me. Often, I just ask: “What are you looking for?” Sometimes straight out asking doesn’t seem appropriate, so instead of asking I just wonder what response she’s hoping for, and hope that I’m able to help.

Sometimes I’ll be talking to a friend and she’ll hint at bad news–and hint and hint. I’m not really sure if she wants me to ask what’s up, or if she’s veiling her meaning because she needs to keep it a secret. In moments like those, I wish she could just tell me what she’s looking for: does she need a little empathy, so she doesn’t feel like she’s struggling all alone? Does she need a shoulder to cry on, or advice? I could be a better friend if she’d just tell me what she wants.

Sometimes it’s easy to put my old friend’s conversational strategy into practice. My husband’s had a stressful season at work, and I recently realized that my reactions to his daily report might be fueling his stress instead of helping him. So, I asked him: when he comes home after a difficult day, what response would he like from me? He said to please just listen and say, “Golly, that sounds tough.” I’m glad I asked, because that is not what I’d been saying!

I’ll often frame conversations by starting with “I’m looking for advice” or “Listen to how hard my day was” so my listener knows what I’m looking for and can help me out. Sometimes, I’m not sure what I’m looking for when the conversation starts, and that’s when “help me think through this” are magic words.

When you’re talking with others, do you tell them what you’re looking for? Do you ask them what they’d like from you? Share your thoughts in comments.

Recommended Reading:

1 Good Reason to Gossip (and 5 Better Reasons Not To). According to researchers, hearing gossip helps us make savvy choices out in the real world–but is it worth it?

Pssst! A Secret About Secrets. Keeping secrets is bad for your health. Here’s why–and what to do about it.

“Talking” Etiquette: A Timeless Guide to Modern Technology. There’s been a lot of talk recently about the new lows in etiquette we’re reaching because of our cell phones. But cell phones aren’t to blame–they’re just tools, and whether or not they’re used well depends on the user. Here are some tips for using yours well.

photo credit


Leave A Comment
  1. This is a powerful practice! I regularly try to remind myself that I’m much more likely to get what I want, if I actually ask for it. It feels so selfish at first, but the underlying truth is that I’m if I’m looking for support or advice, I should just ask for it. It’s a good practice to teach our kids, too. Helping them learn to articulate what their needs are is so important! Thank you for this reminder today!

    • Anne says:

      Oh, goodness–I hadn’t even thought about my kids! But now that you mention it, it’s very true that I often tell them that complaining is just complaining (I’m so hungry/thirsty/hot) but if they tell me what they need, they’re much more likely to actually get what they’re looking for!

      Thanks for taking the conversation to another level πŸ™‚

  2. Virginia says:

    Love this post! I just had similar conversations with people (my hubby one) and try to tell him if I want help fixing it, encouragement or sympathy. If left to his own he will try to fix it in a phrase or two πŸ˜‰

    • Anne says:

      Haha! My own husband has been so thoroughly hammered by the “men shouldn’t just try to fix things” message that I’ve taken to explicitly saying “I want you to fix this!” when I actually want him to go into problem-solving mode. It cracks both of us up, which is probably a good way to approach a problem anyway πŸ™‚

  3. Annie says:

    It’s like that “Men are from Mars” thing. After years together, my husband knows better than to try to fix something for me unless explicitly asked. He became such a good listener, now I have to ask and ask, and then ask again to get anything “fix” in the house. πŸ™‚

  4. Carrie says:

    Umm, I LOVE this. I am totally going to remember this phrase when talking with hubby or a friend.

    Life would be much easier if we were direct about what we really need and expected no mind reading, but how many of us are good at asking? People are a lot more inclined to give us what we need if they know exactly what it is. πŸ™‚

  5. Leanne Penny says:

    I like this, I wish all conversations were framed so obviously but since that won’t happen I will focus on communicating my intentions and needs more clearly in my own relationships and realize that often I may be giving one thing when the opposite is needed.

    I’m trying this trick on my husband tonight, who is in a stressful season himself, college ministry, golf tournament, finals week, etc.

  6. Jodi says:

    I’ve started getting specific with my husband about this, because it is hard for him to differentiate between needing a shoulder and needing a hero. πŸ™‚

  7. Suzette says:

    Love this post! Thanks so much. I think this could really really help to improve my communication and relationships – esp. with family members!

  8. SANDY says:

    My mom told me about a time when she started giving my distraught sister advice, and my sister scolded her, “Mom! I don’t want advice! I just want you to say, ‘There, there.'”

    When talking with friends, I often DO want advice, and I explicitly ask for it. With my husband it varies, and I often do tell him if I actually want advice (or just need a listening ear, sympathy, and a hug!).

    Anne, I like how your husband was able to communicate to you the most helpful response you could give him in his current stressful situation! Thanks as always for a great post!: )

  9. I’m a high school English teacher, so students, friends, and family constantly ask me to edit their work. I have a rule to always ask what they’re looking for. That way, I won’t tear apart an essay when my little sister just wanted me to tell her what a good job she had done.

    According to my husband, men are much better than women at telling each other what they want.

  10. HopefulLeigh says:

    This is good advice, Anne! I usually tell people preemptively what I want from them when it comes to discussing certain sensitive topics but not across the board. I’ll have to be more mindful of putting this into practice, as both the listener and the sharer.

  11. My husband and I have talked about this numerous times, and either one knows we can say, “I’m not looking for advice about this, I just want to vent.” It’s a lot harder with other people, though — I don’t feel like I can be as upfront as I can be with him.

  12. kaysi says:

    WOW, this is such a great insight! Thanks for sharing — I hope this will be something I can remember & practice in future conversations!

  13. I need to do this! I have a wonderful friend who always offers sane, godly advice—except sometimes I really just want a few minutes to vent to someone I know will understand, not a better solution, you know? Being up-front about it might help! πŸ™‚

  14. Alison says:

    I love that your friend asked that! More often than not, I just need someone to listen to me vent. I’m rarely looking for advice (it has taken my hubby a while to learn this πŸ™‚ I love your idea of going into the conversation stating exactly what you’re looking for from that person. I need to be better about doing that others know what I’m expecting, and I can avoid frustration πŸ™‚

  15. Molly says:

    Great advice! Often when I’m an emotional wreck I’m just not sure what I want!!! This is a good reminder to get it together and figure it out!

  16. 'Becca says:

    I really appreciate friends like that! I am terrible at asking for what I need, and unfortunately my man often responds by getting angry that I’m doing it wrong, which makes me feel more anxious so less able to ask. . . . We’re both working on it! We’ve also had some times recently when he’s been like your husband, just wanting me to say, “That sounds tough!” instead of trying to make him feel better about it or telling him he’s handling it wrong or anything else. It can be hard to guess what someone else truly wants or needs, so your friend’s approach of asking directly can be very helpful.

  17. Hannah McKay says:

    This is so simple and yet so powerful! Thanks so much for sharing what you’ve learned. I am learning it’s far better to ask what others need than to plow ahead in ignorance or be paralyzed by helplessness.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.