Find yourself raising the white flag all too often when it comes to having your way? Whether you need more attention from your doctor or require approval from your boss to work from home, claiming victory could be easier than you think, says Elizabeth Lombardo, Ph.D., author of A Happy You (Morgan James Publishing). "The trick is not confusing assertiveness, which is expressing yourself in a kind manner, with aggressiveness, which is expressing yourself but not respecting others," she explains. Get it right, and you'll receive your heart's desire. Get it wrong, and you not only hit a roadblock, but the tension can cause everything from depression and lack of productivity to weight gain, colds and fatigue. We asked doctors, 800-number managers and even restaurant pros to find out how you can become a satisfied customer in the game of life. As the motto goes, it's not what you say but how you say it.
The problem: It seems that no matter how many times you remind your kid, rules are being ignored. Your 11-year-old visited a neighborhood friend again without telling you where she was going; now you're seething.
The solution: Turn your kid into a problem-solver. "Don't hope that your yelling will make her understand how serious and important rules are and never do the behavior again," says psychologist Lawrence J. Cohen, Ph.D., author of Playful Parenting (Ballantine Books). Instead, give yourself a cooling-off period by telling your child: "I'm really mad right now, so let's talk about this tomorrow." Then, once you do chat, explain how fearful you are when you don't know where she is — but resist the urge to list all the reasons you think it's dangerous. "Kids believe they're invincible, so bringing up a news story about a missing child isn't effective," says Cohen. A better tactic: Explain that you need to know she's safe and ask for her help in finding a solution that works for both of you. "You're opening the door to genuine dialogue, allowing your child to be part of the solution and bolstering her own need for independence," explains Cohen.
At Your Job
The problem: Working from home once a week would allow you to cut down on wasted commuting hours and bypass interruptions from colleagues. But you don't want your boss to think you're not a team player.
The solution: Sell your idea. "Most people believe communication is talking about what you want, but it's the opposite," says Corinne Gregory, author of It's Not Who You Know, It's How You Treat Them (Maestrowerks). Ask yourself, "What's in it for the other person?" Present your boss with the request and the resolution in one fell swoop. Don't begin with preambles like, "I've been giving this a lot of thought and struggling with the changes going on in my family life." Instead, be direct: "I want to take 15 minutes of your time and discuss working remotely once a week. I've got a plan that would increase my productivity, plus free up my desk for the Friday intern." Stop, and resist the urge to fill the silence with nervous chatter. Skip the let-me-help-you-walk-a-mile-in-my-shoes speech. A smarter script: "I want to give 100% at work." "That they understand," says Gregory. "At the end of the day, the boss's goal is for you to get the job done."
On the Phone
The problem: Your flight was delayed, you missed your connection and the airline lost your luggage. You call customer service and get caught in automated-phone-system hell.
The solution: Kill 'em with kindness. "I deal with not-nice callers all day long, so it's the nice callers who get me to stand up and take notice," explains Stephanie Hensel, a customer-service rep who answers hundreds of calls each day. Using your best please-help-me-I'm-a-wounded-soul voice, try something like: "Hi, Stephanie, this is Janet Smith. I'm so frustrated, but I'm really hoping you can help me today." Let the employee know that you understand she did not cause the problem. Then, carefully explain your situation, knowing in advance what you'd like the outcome to be. (You might ask for more than you want to leave room for some negotiation.) Recently stranded by the airline? Get reimbursed for that lost luggage and score some free miles for your pain and suffering. Mailed a package that never arrived? Ask the company to re-send it and eat the overnight shipping fee, plus snag a 10% credit for the hassle. Setting a goal gives you a road map for the conversation and prevents the call from becoming a futile venting session. Then allow the rep a bit of time to actually do her job. If you're told you'll hear back within 24 hours, don't hang up and call another rep 4 hours later. If you can't get a human being on the phone, try this backdoor strategy from Shelly Rosa, call center manager at QCI Direct's Home Trends catalog. Dial the main company number and hit a random extension using the line, "Hi, I got stuck in the customer-service loop and was sent to you. Can you help me?" Finally, if you're hitting the wall and need a supervisor, skip the barking command (they'll just pre-warn their superior that you're a pill) and try this ploy instead: "Maybe you could switch me to a supervisor so you could continue to help other customers."
In a Restaurant
The problem: The menu is full of cream-based sauces, fried appetizers and calorie-laden cocktails, but you're trying to slim down. Staying on-plan means asking for a customized meal, but you don't want to irritate the waiter.
The solution: Getting your specific food request honored is about good old-fashioned manners, explains Carrie Unger, a 13-year veteran of the restaurant business based in Seattle. Try to establish a rapport with your server and then articulate your reasonable (repeat: reasonable) request. Start with a nod to the work that's been put into the creation of the food. "If a customer says, 'The steak with truffle butter sounds fantastic, but I'm on a strict low-fat diet right now,' then I realize the person gets it and isn't being insensitive," she explains. Realistic requests include subbing olive oil for butter or a veggie for a carb, and asking for grilling without added fat. But there's a big difference between saying, "Can you give me extra vegetables instead of the baked potato?" and trying to reinvent the entire dish. Even better, consider allowing the server to come up with a solution by handing over the reins. Telling her, "I can't eat carbs — could you suggest a side that might work for me?" ups the consideration factor.
At the Doctor's
The problem: It's been ages since you've seen your GP, and you have a laundry list of medical issues to discuss. How do you squeeze in all your questions before the physician has to move on to the next patient?
The solution: Be honest. "If you need a longer visit, ask for it when you make the appointment," explains Susan Baumgaertel, M.D., an internal medicine physician at the Polyclinic in Seattle. Only copping to a sore throat will make them think you need just 10 minutes. At the clinic, give the nurse a brief rundown ("I've had a sore throat for 10 days, my periods have been wonky and I'm having back pain at night."). Unless she asks for more info, the nurse is just making sure your complaints jibe with what's on your chart. The bonus: Extra time with the doctor. "And that results in a more thorough assessment," says Dr. Baumgaertel. Always discuss your most urgent concern first; if you leave it for later, your M.D. might not have time to address something critical. "Doctors cringe when they are walking out of the exam room and the patient says, 'I almost forgot...I've had rectal bleeding for the past week. Am I okay? '" adds Dr. Baumgaertel. Finally, a little buttering up may net you some extra attention. "My staff and I love it when a patient asks about our kids or takes the time to thank us for getting that prescription refill called in so quickly," she admits. "I will bend over backwards for appreciative people. It's human nature."
Originally published in the April 2013 issue of Family Circle magazine.