In life, we all need to ask others to do things for us. Whether at work, home, or school, we hope that when we make a request, people will say yes! The way to get a positive result more often is to combine the language of polite requests with the psychology of effective requests.

This document will show you how to make successful requests. It includes:

  • English expressions to make polite requests
  • psychological techniques to make effective requests
  • 3 levels of requests
  • 3 factors that determine how to make a request
  • examples of informal, formal, and very formal requests
  • the secret word and technique of getting people to say yes

Language of Polite Requests

Factors Affecting Requests

The language we use when making requests is based on three factors:

Factor What to Consider
Level of relationship Are we asking a family member, a friend, a colleague, a boss, or a stranger?
Level of difficulty How much time, effort, money, or other resources does our request demand?
Level of request Is it a small, medium, or large request?

Levels Affecting Request

If we are making a small request, our language can be direct, informal and short.

If the request is medium-sized, the language we use should be polite, formal and long.

If we need to make a large request, it is better to use very polite, very formal, and very long/lengthy language. This is summarized below.

Level Language Formality Length
SMALL Direct Informal Short
MEDIUM Polite Formal Standard/Average
LARGE Very Polite Very Formal Very Long

Examples of Polite Language Requests

About Me:
SMALL direct, informal, short Can I go now?
MEDIUM polite, formal, standard Do you think I could leave now?
LARGE very polite, very formal, very long I was wondering if it would be (at all) possible for me to leave early today?
About You:
SMALL direct, informal, short Got 5 bucks?
MEDIUM polite, formal, standard Could you please lend me $25?
LARGE very polite, very formal, very long I hope you don’t mind my asking but could I please borrow $250?

You can use the requests above confidently whenever you are communicating in English. However, if you want to increase your chances of getting a positive response to your requests, you need to use a secret strategy! Read on to learn what happens when you combine the right language with the right psychology.

Psychology of Effective Requests

The Secret Word to Get a Yes!

Researchers have found that by using the word “because” or giving people a reason for our request, we greatly increase our chances of getting a positive response – a yes. They found this to be true even if the reason that was given was not particularly good! Note the difference in the same examples given above when we add a reason.

Examples of polite language requests + effective psychology requests

About Me:
SMALL direct, informal, short Can I go now? ‘Cause I gotta pick up my kids.
MEDIUM polite, formal, standard Do you think I could leave now? I have another meeting in 5 minutes.
LARGE very polite, very formal, very long I was wondering if it would be (at all) possible for me to leave early because I have a flight this evening.
About You:
SMALL direct, informal, short Got 5 bucks? I need to buy lunch.
MEDIUM polite, formal, standard Could you please lend me $25? I need to get a haircut before my job interview.
LARGE very polite, very formal, very long I hope you don’t mind my asking but could I please borrow $250. I’m late on my rent and the landlord is threatening to evict me. (force me to leave the apartment)

Conclusion

Did you notice how much more effective our requests become when we give a reason? In the situations above, did you feel more likely to say “yes” when the word “because” was used or when a reason was given? What you experienced is what happens to most other people, too!

So remember: When you need to ask someone for something, use the right language and the right psychology for the best results.

Language of Polite Requests

  • Small – Direct, Informal, Short
    • Can I…
    • Is it okay if I…
    • Can you…
  • Medium – Polite, Formal, Standard
    • May I please…
    • Could I please…
    • Would it be all right if I…
    • Would you mind if I…
    • Do you think I could…
    • Could you please…
    • Would you please…
    • I’d appreciate it if you could…
  • Large – Very Polite, Very Formal, Very Long
    • Do you think it would be possible for me to…
    • Do you think it would be at all possible…
    • I hope you don’t mind my asking but would it be possible to…
    • I hope you don’t mind my asking but do you think it might be at all possible for me/you/him/her/us/them to…

Practice

Make the following requests, using the right language and giving a reason.

# Level Request
1 Medium You want your secretary to send an email to your client.
2 Small You want your brother to pick up a coffee for you.
3 Medium You want your employee to finish a report by 5:00 pm.
4 Large You want your boss to give you 3 days off next week off to look after a relative.
5 Medium/Large You want your professor to let you hand in your assignment late?
6 Small You want to know where your son put the key.
7 Large You want to know if your boss can give you an advance on your salary.
8 Small You want your friend to send you his class notes.




Sample Answers

  1. Could you please send that email to ABC Company as soon as possible? I need them to get it before they close down for the day in Japan.
  2. Hey, can you grab a coffee for me? I really need some caffeine!
  3. I would appreciate it if you could finish the report by 5:00 pm. We need to get it over to the client for approval before tomorrow’s big meeting.
  4. I hope you don’t mind my asking but do you think it might be possible for me to take 3 days off next week? Unfortunately, my mother is unwell and I need to take her to the hospital for a number of tests so they can figure out what is wrong with her.
  5. I hope you don’t mind my asking but would it be all right for me to submit my assignment on Monday? I had a terrible case of food poisoning and was unable to get to the library to do any work.
  6. Where’s the key, hon? We need to get you to soccer practice.
  7. I hope you don’t mind my asking but do you think it might be possible for me to get an advance on my salary? I had some unexpected expenses this month because of my car accident.
  8. Hey, man, can you send me your class notes? I couldn’t get up this morning!
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Quiz

Test your understanding of this English lesson

Test your understanding of the English lesson by answering these questions. You will get the answers and your score at the end of the quiz.
To get people to say "yes" to your requests, you need to use the right __________.

Which of these requests is more informal?

All requests are the same. It doesn't matter what you ask for or who you ask.

The most important thing you can do to get someone to say "yes" to your request is:

Formal requests are usually longer than informal requests.

Which of these requests is more formal?

To make a successful request, you must consider the kind of relationship you have with the person.

Which of these requests is the most formal?

Which of the following is a medium-sized request?

If you are asking for something big such as time, money, or effort, should your request be longer or shorter? Should it be formal or informal?


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