Use positive language when making requests!
Example of negative language: Asking someone not to do something. Instead, request what you do want.
This may be true even when talking to oneself. Obsessing over what you shouldn’t have said instead of what you should have said. Such negative requests often don’t even work within yourself. You’ll likely repeat the behaviors you told yourself you shouldn’t do.
A common scenario: People getting upset and saying it’s no use engaging with another: “Why bother? We already told him what we wanted!” But usually those requests were negative requests.
Make the request specific. Don’t say you want to be treated “fairly”. Specify how.
Two key points in this section:
Use positive language in making requests.
Make your requests specific.
Making requests in clear, positive, concrete action language reveals what we really want.
Boss to employee: “I want you to feel fine to express yourself around me.” This is a vague request. How can the employees “feel free”? A positive request would be “I’d like you to tell me what I might do to make it easier for you to feel free to express yourselves around me.”
Vague language contributes to internal confusion.
We are not taught to get what we want. We are taught how to “be good” kids, etc. We should know how to request what would make our lives better.
Depression is the reward we get for being “good”.
Making Requests Consciously
When we simply express our feelings, it may not be clear to the listener what we want them to do.
We are often not conscious of what we are requesting.
Requests may sound like demands when unaccompanied by the speaker’s feelings and needs.
Do not make a request without specifying the feelings and needs. Especially when phrased as a question: “Why don’t you go and get a haircut?” Sounds like a demand.
The clearer we are about what we want, the more likely it is that we will get it.
Asking for a Reflection
If we want to know whether what we said was heard, we need a way to request acknowledgment. “Is that clear?” may be OK if we’re OK with a mere “Yes” as an answer (and we often are not).
To make sure the message we sent is the message that’s received, ask the listener to reflect it back.
When they reflect back and it’s not what you meant, don’t say “You didn’t hear me right” or similar - it sounds like a complaint.
Express appreciation when your listener tries to meet your request for a reflection.
Then state that something was lost.
People may get defensive when you ask for a reflection, thinking you’re patronizing them or playing games. So try to explain why you’re asking. If they complain saying “I can hear, I’m not stupid!” ask “Are you feeling annoyed because you want respect for your ability to understand things?”
Always empathize with the listener who doesn’t want to reflect back. Don’t get frustrated.
After expressing ourselves and ensuring understanding, we may want to understand the other’s reactions.
What feelings did we stimulate? Say “I would like you to tell me how you feel about what I just said, and your reasons for feeling this way.”
After we express ourselves vulnerably, we often want to know:
- What the listener is feeling.
- What the listener is thinking.
- Whether the listener would be willing to take a particular action.
For 2, be specific: “I’d like you to tell me if you think my proposal would be successful, and if not, why not.” vs “I’d like you to tell me what you think.”
For 3, “I’d like you to tell me if you would be willing to…”
Making Requests of a Group
When making requests of a group, be clear about the kind of understanding or honesty we want back after expressing ourselves. Not doing so leads to unproductive conversations.
When you speak in such a setting, be mindful of the response you want from the group. If you don’t know what response you want, are you wasting people’s time?
When someone is talking in a meeting and it seems to be going nowhere, ask “I’m confused about how you’d like up to respond to your story. Would you be willing to say what response you’d like from us?”
Think of all the conversations and lack of actions and non-profit meetings. No resolve. Frustration.
Requests vs Demands
Our requests are perceived as demands when others believe they will be blamed or punished for non-compliance. If they feel you are making a demand, they feel they have two options:
Both make them feel bad and make the requester appear coercive.
To observe if it’s a demand or a request, observe what the speaker does if the request is not complied with. It is a demand if the speaker criticizes or judges. It is a demand if the speaker lays a guilt trip.
It is a request if the speaker shows empathy to the other person’s needs when the other person turns him down.
Actively do this when people turn you down! It’s a strong signal you were not making a demand.
Defining Our Objective When Making Requests
What is your objective in making a request? If it is to change others’ behavior or get them out of our way, then NVC won’t work well. It works if we want them to change willingly and compassionately. Keeping this objective in mind can be hard, especially if you’re in authority.
Labeling people gives them permission to behave according to the label. Results in a positive feedback loop.
We may speak in the language of requests, but beware our internal thoughts:
“He should be cleaning up…”
“She’s supposed to…”
As long as you have these thoughts, it was a demand.