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Anger Management and Making Requests

Harry Mills, Ph.D. Updated: Mar 8th 2016

People who have difficulty being assertive often also have difficulty making requests. Angry people can be particularly bad at making effective requests. Because they feel they deserve being treated in a particular way they may never make requests in the first place, instead assuming (falsely) that others around them should know what to do and how and when to do it. When angry people do make requests, they may make them in the form of demands, which provoke angry feelings in others and are not likely to be happily carried out.

An effective request should have the following qualities:

Clarity. A well formed request should state clearly what it is that you want. Requests that lack clarity are difficult to meet and can provoke stress, frustration, and anger. This is especially true when requests are interpreted as demands. An effective request needs to be stated explicitly, and must provide clear answers to three questions:

  • Who? – To whom is the request being made?
  • What? – What must be done to fulfill the request?
  • When? – When should it be done?

Respectfulness. A well formed request should be respectful. The reason for this is simple: If people feel respected, they are more likely to want to comply, and you are more likely to get what you want.

Respectful requests begin with phrases such as:

  • "Would you be so kind as to…"
  • "If it is not too much trouble, could you…"
  • "I would very much appreciate it if you would …"

Emotional Transparency. Consider the following angry request:

"You insensitive jerk! You stupid forgetful idiot! What's wrong with you?! Why did you forget the milk I asked for?!"

couple fighting across divideHow does it feel to read that request? Probably, you feel just a little defensive while reading that request, which is less a request and more of an accusation or demand. Such an angry, judgmental request is unlikely to get a sympathetic audience.

The example request (above) fails in part because it lacks in emotional transparency. To be emotionally transparent is to be willing to share real feelings. The speaker in the example request doesn't share feelings at all – he or she simply makes accusations. If we try to put ourselves into the speaker's state of mind, however, we can guess at what his or her real feelings are. The speaker probably feels neglected or forgotten, and hurt.

Requests that are emotionally transparent – that share with the listener the true reasons for the request - are more likely to motivate the listener to act than accusatory requests. Consider this variation on the example request, rephrased so that it is more emotionally transparent.

"I feel like you don't care about me when you forget to buy the milk. Please remember me next time!"

Making the fact that your feelings have been hurt clear in your request does two good things. First, it makes your motivation for making your request clear, and second, it doesn't put your listener on the defensive. Requests that are emotionally transparent, clear, and respectful in tone are most likely to be taken to heart.

An Assertive Request Formula

Crafting clear, respectful and transparent requests doesn't have to be difficult. Try filling in this simple formula to get started:

"I feel ....... when you ........... because ........................"

Be sure that you only discuss how you feel about yourself when you fill in the "I feel" part of the formula. If you say:

"I feel that you are a jerk!"

the formula won't work, because you have created an aggressive and attacking statement that is not at all transparent, and which says nothing explicit about what you are feeling. If you instead talk about how you feel about yourself, you'll get better results because you won't be on the attack. For example,

"I feel like you don’t care about me when you don’t call to let me know that you are going to be late because I end up worried and upset and I feel abandoned."


Reader Comments
Discuss this issue below or in our forums.

Parental Trials - - Sep 17th 2012

What if you try the assertive technique with your parent (yes, "parent" as I only have one because the other is a deadbeat) and your parent is automatically becomes defensive and interrupts you to prove that she's right?

This happens with me with everything and it makes me even angrier. And, I mean angrier.

I try this all the time since I can't disrespect my parent because...that's just not in me to do something like that. This could be my frustration talking but she always have to be right in everything. All the time. Seriously. This alone makes me heated to the "red zone" of my "anger odometer".

I'm not saying that any of the tips in this article are ineffective, I'm just saying, what can I do?

If I try to get away from the acidic situation, she follows me and becomes demanding, "What did I just say? Answer my question! Repeat it to me so that I know you've understood! If you don't..." so there's no escaping the hostile situation.

Calming down is nearly impossible.

I'm already angry because of the fact I can't pay for my final year in college because of financial issues, friends are very unreliable for a shoulder to lean on, and dealing with the deadbeat parent that left my life for years on end after a violent exchange and then returning to me like a total insensitive vulture.

I feel stuck here.

better off? - Steve - Nov 2nd 2010

To the toxic relationship poster... If he doesn't care about what you say when you tell him how you feel.. Maybe he truly doesn't care about how you feel. You'd be better off without someone who doesn't care about you, eh? And to the poster about the sales company? haha, yeah false empathy can be a marketing ploy, but that's a different topic entirely. There's a huge difference between a relationship with your friend or family then your relationship with a company selling you a product. One isn't conditional.. The other is. If you don't buy what they're selling they probably don't give a rat's ass about you. Whereas a family member isn't after your money.. They're after happiness and love between the two of you. To the First poster who was talking about a person who listens and then does the same thing at the next opportunity and denies blame.. I give you the same advice as the toxic relationship poster.. your relationship with that person is indeed toxic. I would cut it off. Sincerely, Steve I hope you all are happy and loved.

a resentful, angry partner - - Jun 23rd 2010

While this is great advice, you have to also accept that the person you are talking to simply may not be receptive to any communication at that moment.

 I am in a truly toxic relationship. We have both developed deep anger problems with each other over the course of the relationship. I find that my anger is MOST likely to boil over into something uncontrollable precisely when I try to communicate my feelings as clear, sympathetic, reasoned request.. only to met with disinterest and contempt by a resentful, angry partner. Time and time again, this is the point where things fall apart.

Until I learn to accept that such requests  do not HAVE to met with sympathy and understanding, I will continue have anger problems. It's not an easy lesson to learn.

works like a charm - - Jan 30th 2010

Worst case scenario just say forcefully I DONT WANT #$%$@#4 whatver that may be, it works like a charm for respect

makes others angry - - Sep 1st 2009

"I feel .....when you.....because" just makes the other person feel like crap, and if someone talked to me like that I would get angry anyways because it sounds insincere.  Oh lets get all touchy feely.  Verizon wireless, Universal Studios or any other bussiness out there tries to talk all touchy and feely when they want your business and then stab you in the back with crappy service and customer support.  I have determined that I should just walk around with my pants down and my butt in the air all the time, cause that is what happens to the consumer most of the time.  There is however one company out there that has never done me wrong EVER.  That company is USAA.  They provide excelent service on every level.  Another bad company is Rinnai. They make tankless water heaters.  The product is good but the customer service SUCKS.  Their owners manual indicated that if you have hard water over 500 milligrams of dissolved solids then you should run vinegar through it more often than once a year.  I looked up my hard water reading which was 670 from the water company and spent the next 3 months trying to find out how often I needed to pump vinegar through the heater.  Once a month; once every two months; once every six months?  The only answer that they could give was "go buy a water conditioner"  They have SHIT for brains as far as I am concerned.  WHY BOTHER TELLING ME THAT I MUST FLUSH IT MORE OFTEN IF YOU CANT DEFINE WHAT MORE OFTEN MEANS!  I gave them my water hardness value.  If you could actually read the emails that they sent in response to my simple question.  I even asked them if twice a month was enough given my water hardness rating....(a simple yes or no question)....and I could not find a single yes or no anywhere in there 2 page email response....TRULY SHIT FOR BRAINS.   God I hate big business.  Why cant they just do what they say they are going to do.  They always want you to sign something when contracting with them but whenever I write up a contract of things that I would like agreed to they refuse to sign it.  SOUNDS  LIKE A DOUBLE STANDARD TO ME....and my contracts are far from unreasonable, without fine print.  Anyways I got off topic but I think you are giving people bad advice to get all touchy feely.



Editor's Note: There can be an artificial quality to speaking like this, and as you point out, it is not infrequently encountered these days that a company will use this sort of language as part of their marketing (e.g., as a manipulative strategy).  Nevertheless, this sort of communication can also be done sincerely, and with mutual respect.  The purpose of speaking in this way is to make feelings explicit so that other people do not have to guess at what is happening.  Without speaking explicitly in this manner (or similar), people will have to guess, and they will do so inefficiently in many cases.  Most any tool can be abused, but that doesn't mean that the tool itself is worthless.  In the right hands, with the right intent, this tool can get results. 

i know how you feel - brigitte - Dec 29th 2008

that just happened to me 2 days ago....and i of course became the "bad" person AGAIN....

- adesh agarwal - May 21st 2008

It becomes difficult not to become angry when :

You make a request, the other person agrees to abide but violates it  atthe nextopportunity.

The other person refuses to accept the blame altogether.

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