How To Politely Ask “What Do You Want?”


There are many situations in which you’ll need to ask someone what they want. If you work in a field where you often interact with members of the public, you’ll tend to do this often.

It’s important to ask people what they want, politely but also persistently. Use open questions such as “What type of item/food/color do you want?” to ensure they give you all available information and adequately describe what they are looking for.

The Importance of Your Tone

When you’re asking someone what they want, it’s very important to use the correct tone. If you don’t come across as being polite, they may feel as though they are being a burden or causing inconvenience. Since no one wants to feel like that, they may try to solve their problem on their own.

That can lead to several issues. If they need your help to do something, it may be that they don’t have the information they need to do it on their own. If they try to, they may end up causing confusion or even slowing down your entire system.

Use a tone that lets each person know that you welcome their query and are willing to help.

Even if you’re asking someone what they want online, you must watch your tone. Your tone can be thought of as the emotion or character that accompanies what you say.

In fact, if you’re asking someone what they want in a business context, the tone can be thought of as indicating what type of character your business has.

Sometimes the tone of your words is unintentional but that can lead to your question being interpreted as lacking interest, thoughtless, or even angry when it wasn’t intended to be.

Whether you’re asking someone what they want in a personal or business setting, you must be intentional with your tone.

Deliberately inject confidence and a sense of welcome into your tone.

You can say:

How can I help you today?

Can I help you with something?

Do you need help with anything today?

Can I help you to find anything?

Put a smile in your voice when you’re asking another person what they want. If you’re having a bad day, try to visualize something that makes you smile, while you’re talking with the person.

If you’re corresponding with them online, do the same as you text. Let your question be an invitation to receive assistance.

Ready To Serve

Service is often highly valued in many cultures because it’s a way of giving to someone else. When you’re asking someone what they want, you should be ready to serve them.

That inner sense of willingness to give will influence the tone of your words.

You’re less likely to sound as though you’re attacking them if your mind is focused on how you can help them.

If you want to ask someone what they want, you could say:

How can I help you?

What would you like to do today?

How can I help you to achieve your goals?

When you approach someone from the perspective of being willing to serve, it’s more likely that you’ll be able to help them meet their needs. That’s true whether it’s in a business or personal setting.

For example, if you work in the financial sector and a client is not sure what they want but you know they want something, asking a more general question about their needs can help you to identify the best way to help them.

In families, disputes can arise because someone doesn’t know exactly what they want.

If your spouse seems angry or upset, asking what they want can help you to get to the root of the matter.

For example, a husband may be upset because he had to wash up after he cooked dinner and he expected that someone else would chip in with the second task.

You could ask:

How can I help?

Can I do anything in the kitchen this evening?

How can I serve you?

Would you like me to help with anything?

Is there anything that you need?

Be Thorough

When you’re asking someone what they want, it’s easy to assume that they’ve revealed everything that they need. However, sometimes people hold things back.

They may not be sure that you can meet all their needs, so they don’t give you a complete answer. If you’re going to ask someone what they want, it’s important to ensure that they are satisfied at the end of the process.

You will need to ask questions to ensure that you gain all the details on what they want.

For example, if you ask someone, what they want and they say they want new shoes, you can’t make any assumptions. You’ll have to ask what type of shoes they want or learn more about their intended purpose.

You could ask:

What type of item do you want?

What size item do you want?

What do you want to achieve with this product?

You might be surprised at the answers that you get.

Sometimes, during the conversation, you may realize that what the person may have initially said they wanted isn’t what they really want.

For example, your teenage son may say that they want a bicycle when what they really want is a convenient way of getting to school.

Questions like this would help to reveal what they want:

What do you hope to achieve with this item?

What do you want to do with this item?

What do you want to do after you’ve gotten this?

What would you like to do after you’ve bought this?

Do you want anything that isn’t here?

Always remember that not everyone is outspoken. Some people will walk away without ever expressing everything that they feel. A person who simply wants to walk around you may come and stand beside you, instead of simply saying excuse me.

A simple, “Can I help you?” can help you to determine what they want.

Be Persistent

Sometimes people need time before they can answer your question. They may need to think about how they want to phrase their request. They may even want to think carefully about alternatives before asking about a particular option.

You will get the best results from them if you are persistent with asking but give them enough time to carefully consider their options.

The time in each situation may be different. For example, if you are working in a supermarket and you ask a client what type of cheese they want, you may give them a few minutes to think about it. You can let them know that you’ll be right at the counter and they can come back to you.

You could say:

Would you like me to give you a few minutes to think about what you want?

We have several options. Would you like to think about them for a few days before you decide?

Do you know which item you want now or do you need more time?

Let me know if there’s a good time to reach out to you about what you want.

Let me know if there’s a good time to talk about what works best for you.

You can take this approach when you’re asking anyone what they want and they seem unsure.

For example, if you ask a child what they want for lunch you can give them time to think about it. If you’re asking a friend what they want and they seem unsure, you can ask if it’s okay to talk to them again about it in a few minutes.

Keep asking and give them opportunities to tell you what they need.

You can be persistent in asking, without being thoughtless or obnoxious. A lack of response doesn’t always mean that person doesn’t want anything. They could be focused on other priorities or not even be aware that you can actually help them to solve their problem.

You could also verbalize what the person seems to be in favor of or what they might need.

You could ask:

Do you want red or yellow?

What theme/size/location do you want for this event?

What do you have in mind for this event/gift/night out?

Use Different Formats for Asking

Sometimes when you ask people what they want, they may try to go around the facts. They may want something but they might be afraid to ask for it.

You can solve this problem by allowing them to express their needs in different ways.

For example, you could have them email you a request instead of speaking to you face to face. Some people may also feel more comfortable asking for something over the phone.

You could say:

Would you like to talk about what you want during a call later on?

Would you like to email me with guidelines on what you need?

Can you text me the details on the type of product that you want?

Call and let me know what you want for dinner.

Please send me pictures of the type of frames that you want.

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