Select Page

Day 25. Can’t They Just Take a Hint? Nope!

If you want somebody to do what you want, to give you what you need, or to meet certain expectations, there are a number of options for going about it, including doing various favours and making concessions so that they potentially might feel obliged to reciprocate in just the way in which you want, need, or expect. Other ways include being manipulative, obstructive, being kind, doing good deeds, and looking pained. As a result, this makes your options hinting or being shady.

What you might not consider doing is asking for or stating the need, expectation or desire.

As you try to implement healthier boundaries, you may have your doubts as to what hinting actually is in practice (especially if you found the last few lessons a little scary), so I thought that the best way is to illustrate hinting with a sample conversation.

Imagine that you’re dating somebody and as your feelings grow, you want clarification about the status of the relationship, but are trying to gain it without being vulnerable and expressing your feelings. Big hint (haha): if you are not being vulnerable and are not getting to the point, you are hinting.

#1 I’d like us to go out to dinner on Friday.

The logic is that maybe he/she will feel so intimate in the dinner setting that they’ll desire a relationship. Think of this as hinting by trying to create a setting and ambience that will create the opportunity that will influence this person’s feelings.

#2 Did you hear about [another couple that you both know who have been together for a similar or shorter amount of time] are moving in together?

A brief conversation results or maybe even a minor acknowledgement but of course no mention of your own relationship. You probably feel a bit funny now about trying to broach the subject in case they think that you’re being opportunistic. You may feel resentful for them not connecting what you were saying with the both of you and speaking up. You still haven’t clarified the relationship. Think of this as hinting by indirectly referencing what you want by referencing a similar or contrasting situation that’s supposed to influence and even trigger that person into making the connection with what they’re ‘supposed’ to be doing or what you want.

#3 Whatever you want to do.

This is your snippy reply to something because you suppressing irritation, disappointment and hurt is bubbling over into your interactions. They ask if you’re OK and you say that you are or erupt with a stream of irritations and accusations about them not caring about and appreciating you. Still, you haven’t clarified the relationship, and things are pretty tense. Think of this as hinting through tension. ” Can’t you see that I’m pissed off about that thing I haven’t come out straight and told you about? Surely you should know what I want and need without me having to explicitly state it? I’m annoyed with you for not being vulnerable and putting me in the position where I have to be… Oh.. wait a second…”

#4 I really like you and enjoy spending time with you, but I need to know where we both stand before I can continue.

I don’t want to have a casual involvement and need to know that I’m in a relationship and that I’m in it with somebody who is OK with seeing a future with me. I would like to be in a relationship with you – what do you want?


You’re going to find out where you stand, and you’re either going to get what you want – a relationship – or you’re going to be free to pursue what you want with somebody who wants the same thing. This is boundaried communication.

More examples

When you want somebody to do something without you having to ask or without you having to appear that you are ‘nagging’.

“I’m really tired…. sigh… Well, I’d better get on with these tasks” is really, “I’m not going to ask you to do this stuff because you should just know, so instead, I’m going to hint at how tired I am and what I have to do in the hopes that you will offer…”

“What’s that? You’ll help me out. Oh, that’s OK…” is really, “Of course I want you to do it, but now I feel that I’ve guilted you into it and am now saying that it’s OK when it’s not”. If they take you at your word, you feel even more pissed off!

You make up a story about how your co-worker told you this story about a friend of theirs who was inconsiderate in the hopes that it will ‘inspire’ your friend to reconsider their own actions. You feel that this is better than saying, “Remember the other day when you said that you would _______, but then you didn’t, and then you cancelled at the last second, too? Well, it’s really bothered me.”

“Sorry – I probably shouldn’t have said anything. I know how busy you are and I don’t want to be adding to your problems” isn’t the same as, “I know that you’re busy, but when you don’t return my calls or disappear for days at a time, it’s clear that I’m not a priority and I find your non-responsiveness upsetting”.

“Let’s go with your choice as I know that you really want to go there” doesn’t mean what you’re claiming it to mean if what you really want to say is, “I know that you really want to go there but can we go with my suggestion this time as I’d really love a turn at choosing where to go?”.

“I’ve got this report to turn in, and my neighbour was making a right racket last night, and my tummy is feeling a bit iffy and blah blah blah” followed by a big ‘ole awkward pause is less effective than, “I won’t be able to help you out this time”.

“I’ll think about it” as a means of getting the person off your back is less effective than, “Thank you for considering me / the offer / the suggestion, but I really don’t want it/to…. Yes, I’m sure, but thank you”. You know why? Because if you say that you’ll think about it when you already know that you don’t want to, that persistent person will keep chasing you up and you’ll either keep hinting or end up agreeing to something you don’t want to.

Objections is another one. “It’s a long drive”, and then they say that it’s only an hour and far longer by train. “Oh well, what about the weather?” and they say that the forecast is fine. “When is that work project due in?” and on and on. What’s really being said here is, “I’m not really keen on you going” or “I’m worried about you going because_________.”



  • Hinting just isn’t going to cut it. A person doesn’t know that the reason why you’re being or doing certain thing is because you’re trying to say something without saying it. Even though it will not necessarily be your intention, they’re also going to feel manipulated if it all eventually ends up coming out in a mangled disclosure.
  • Yes, you might avoid being vulnerable, but you end up doing you a disservice in the process.
  • Because how much you think you’re hinting is very subjective, while your hint might feel like you’re really stretching you, it’s important to keep in mind that everything is a stretch when you’ve typically held back.
  • “You don’t appreciate me” or “I’m obviously not good enough for you” or any of the stuff I talked about in the Mind Your Language class, is hinting. It would be a lot easier to say what it is that you really need, want or expect so that the person is clear.
  • Keep levelling up. Whatever you think you ‘shouldn’t’ say or that you baulk at saying for fear of being “too direct” or “scaring” him/her, is very likely what you need to say. Keep striving to get closer to that. Very “Feel the fear but say it anyway”.
  • If you’re in a situation where what you think you’re trying to convey isn’t coming across, rather than repeat it in the same way, level up and strive to be more direct in each attempt – at least you will get closer to where you need to be.
  • Hinting is a form of passive-aggression (except for when it’s to do with playing an actual game or giving a surprise), so each time I hint, I use it as a cue to be more boundaried with myself. I check myself by touching base with what I’m feeling and why. And I look at how I can shift out of these feelings and into the zone of self-esteem where I’m taking responsibility.
  • It’s not an overnight thing, but each attempt at communicating clearly gets you closer to who you are.

    JOURNALING: Think about the times when you’re most tempted to hint and list the top line data – who, what, when, where’s and whys. For instance, I am most tempted to hint when people ask me for favours that I already know that I don’t want to do or when I feel awkward about letting someone down (i.e. me not meeting their expectation of saying yes or doing what they want) on the spot. I’m also likely to hint if I’m annoyed with a family member. Whatever you list, these are cues and triggers for you that you need to be mindful of – stick it in your encyclopaedia or one-sheeter. Another friend of mine knows that she’s been hinting when she starts thinking about excuses she can make to get out of something.

    TASK: I always say, start small and build up from there. Today or tomorrow, notice in your conversations with people where you’re being asked something or where you need to convey your needs, expectations, wants, feelings, opinions etc, whether you are being direct or hinting and choose one of these people (one that you don’t consider anywhere near as scary as the person you would be most nervous of being direct with) to answer or speak directly with. Try it in shops, when you’re out and about in restaurants, when you’re at work and with friends who you have good relationships with.

    We are moving to a new site! Set up your new login by 30th April