Monday, 1 August 2011

TIP 1: If you make a request, remember to check how it’s landed!

If you make a request, remember to check how it’s landed.

The difference between a request and a demand is that, with a request, the other person has a choice in how to respond. Check you are leaving time for the other person to agree or disagree. See if you are open to hearing a different approach altogether. If so, then you can be sure you are making a real request.

  • ·      The person you’re asking feels respected and considered
  • ·       You engage their willingness naturally
  • ·      You feel confident making the request, because you can cope with hearing a ‘no’.


    1. An issue that's puzzled me about NVC is the matter of needing to issue a command. In a part of my work I'm put in the position of having to say 'don't do that'. I might aim to be diplomatic, aware and courteous; in fact there are all sorts of ways I can frame the command - a _request_ being the one that obviously leapt to mind. But I know that that frame is disingenuous. I can't accpet a 'no' because it's not really a request. Can you help expand my options?

    2. Hello Satyadarshin,
      Thanks for this comment. I am often asked about this area – the fact that sometimes we know that we don't want to offer a choice, however we might phrase it. And of course, if want to be authentic, that can be awkward. There are a number of options and areas for reflection here. I wonder if you could help me answer by giving me one or two practical examples of a situation in which you are saying 'don't do that'. And what would be the outcome if someone did go ahead and do it? Then I'll enjoy answering your question from there. Thank you!

    3. I'm responsible for running the Steward and Security Crew at the Buddhafield Festival. As you can imagine this means challenging people quite frequently (quite apart from saying no to regular requests). We have a number of policies that are key to our event. One that quite a few folk find difficult is the idea that we don't want them to drink alcohol or take drugs of any sort. (Some people don't believe that we actually mean it.) Ultimately we could just ask someone to leave the Festival, but we'd like not to do that in all but the most intransigent of cases. So when either I or one of my team say 'Please don't do that', how could we approach that more skilfully do you think? Such that we're likely to reduce the possibility of intransigence?

    4. Curiously, I believe people are more willing to engage with what we want the more choice they know they have. Sometimes we think authority means saying a very firm ‘should’ or ‘ought’ or ‘No!’. But actually, I think we have more influence if we are able to really allow others to choose. Now, that’s a tough order when we have a very good reason for wanting something, and we feel very strongly about it (such as not wanting drink or drugs at the Festival). At such moments, in truth, we don’t want to offer a choice at all.

      Of course, people always have a choice. I’m often told, ‘but I have no choice!’ when what people mean is that if they follow a particular course of action, then they will come to harm (lose their job, harm themselves or others, get thrown out of a Festival, and so on). What we really mean when we say we ‘have no choice’ is that we don’t like the consequences of our choices.

      So in your situation, I suggest you might do the following:

      ◦ Give space to the other person’s choices; fully acknowledge what it is they want to do.
      ◦ Really try to understand and empathise with the good reasons for their actions (they may want fun, the freedom to choose, fellowship – you can ask them!)
      ◦ Acknowledge their freedom to choose. The more we mean this, the more respected and valued they are likely to feel.
      ◦ THEN turn to your own concerns. Spell out the consequences of their different choices for you, and in your case, for the Festival too.
      ◦ Try to use ‘positive’ language, saying what you do want, not what you don’t want. In your case, you probably want everyone to have fun at the festival; you may value awareness and consideration; you may want to honour the spirit and aims of the Festival.
      ◦ If they seem to lose interest, or you find yourself talking for too long about your own concerns, hop back onto their ground, by re-acknowledging what it is you have understood of their perspective.

      In this way, you are doing your best to create a connection – by hearing their needs and wishes first, and then sharing your own. If it sounds a bit long-winded, don’t worry. It gets quicker with practice. And compared to the hassle we might encounter later, a minute or two spent in this way is time well invested.

    5. Nice one!
      I have a reservation:
      Sometimes when I make a request, I think I won’t mind hearing a “no”. But maybe I didn’t think it through carefully enough – easily done. Then I get “no!” and I feel “Oh!”
      What next? I say to myself:
      “Where did I feel that ‘no!’? “Ah! That bit needs some empathy.”
      But I’m in the middle of a conversation. My communication isn’t going to plan. What is my best next move?

    6. Ah, isn’t this all-too-human! So often, we think we’re making a respectful request, only to discover when we hear a ‘no’ that we were invested in the answer. It wasn’t a clean question after all – we wanted a particular outcome; and when we hear ‘no’, we may feel disappointed, sad or angry. I agree, some inner empathy for ourselves is probably a good idea just now; for the part of us that wanted our own outcome; for the fact we didn’t intend the communication to go awry.

      But it’s never too late to re-connect with someone. We might just honestly tell them that we hadn’t realised how much we wanted a ‘yes’! At the same time, we can acknowledge (even apologise) for not having taken them into account. We probably did this unwittingly, maybe assuming they’d agree, or because for some reason we hadn’t checked out their needs and wishes. So we discover were asking just from our own perspective. But we are only human, and we’re not telepathic! It’s an honest mistake.

      Now it’s good to make up for lost time. As soon as you feel able, make sure you hop quickly onto the other person’s mountain. Take time to really acknowledge them; their perspectives, and their wishes. They might also need a some understanding for the fact they were on the end of a hidden demand (your ‘invested’ request).

      And now, if your original request really means a lot to you, just try making it again, speaking from your heart – using ‘Owned Language’ as much as you can, and truly offering a choice. For a quick guide to Owned Language (based on NVC), see my online Learning Resources:

      And hey ... thanks Dad! :)))