Day 27: Making Requests

One of the biggest problems people have in relationships is not knowing how to skillfully ask their partner for what they want. They know how to manipulate and demand to get what they want. But they don’t know how to ask for what would help them feel better in a simple and honest way.

When I learned mindful expression, I no longer felt like I was surrounded by difficult people. Instead, I saw how they were willing to collaborate with me. And it was all because of the art of making skillful requests.

A Note on Mindful Expression
In order to understand how to make a skillful request, it’s important to know how to practice mindful expression. So if you haven’t read the last challenge, now would be a good time to do that……………. Back? Ok here we go!

How to Make Skillful Requests

Specific: I know what you’re asking me to do.
Time bound: I know when you’re asking me to do it.
Doable: I am capable of doing it and you could tell I’ve done it.

Let’s look at each of these more deeply.

Specific – I know what you are asking me to do.

Most requests are vague. You ask your kids to clean up their rooms, and you ask your partner to say something nice. The problem is you and your kids have different idea of clean and your partner might think a “nice shirt” is good enough.

The more clear you are on what you want, the more likely you are to get it.

Here are some tips for making specific requests:
1. Use positive language.

Often requests take the form of something you want to stop. But I learned as a preschool teacher humans are not wired to not do things. So instead of saying “don’t”, I learned to ask for what I wanted.

It may seem silly but it works. Saying “don’t do X” isn’t as clear as saying “please do Y”. So when you make requests make them positive.

Don’t say:
Please don’t come home late.
Do say:
Can you please do your best to be home on time?

Don’t say:
Please stop annoying me.
Do say:
Can you please play in the other room for 5 minutes while I finish dinner?

  1. Can a camera see it?

When making a request imagine, that a camera is filming the person doing the thing that would meet your need.

Here is an example of an action request:
You: Would you be willing to fold your t-shirts, pick up your dirty laundry, and make your bed before we leave for the park?

Here is an example of a non action oriented request:
You: This room is a wreck! Can you make sure your room is nice and tidy before we leave?

In the first example you know what is being asked. In the 2nd you could guess, but it’s less clear.

If you do these two things your requests will be much more specific and thus much more effective and connecting.

Time Bound

When I lived at the monastery, no one was there indefinitely. Everyone took a vow of commitment they set themselves, which made these commitments more real. Commitments in the regular world are no different. When you commit to something for a period of time, that commitment is more real, but an open-ended request is open to interpretation. So good requests should be time bound.

Here’s how you make a time bound request:
Instead of making blanket behavior requests ask for a specific behavior on a specific occasion or period of time.

Here’s are examples blanket behavior requests:

  • Can you make sure to be on time to our meetings?
  • Can you please call me when you know you’ll be late?
  • Would you mind being the one who cleans out the litter box at night?
  • Hey could you give me a call when you’re coming home from work?

In each of these examples the request is clear, but the time period isn’t defined. While this isn’t the worst thing ever, the requests would be better if they were time bound.

Here’s how you could anchor these requests in time:

  • Next time we meet can you try to be on time and if you’re going to be late can you give me a call?
  • I worry when you come home late from work, so would you be willing to call me next Thursday if you know you’ll be coming home late?
  • Would you mind taking on the responsibility of cleaning the litter box out at night this week?
  • Hey if you’re going to be coming home late on any of the next 4 Thursdays could you give me a call to let me know?

As you can see in each of these examples the request has become time bound, so it’s easier to know what’s been asked. It also cues the asker to think about the time period involved. This means that if I can’t pick up the kids cause I’ll be out of town in two weeks I’m more likely to let you know.

Doable – A request is doable if the person is capable of doing it, and both of us can tell that it’s being done.

Actually if you make sure your requests are specific and time bound 90% of them will be doable. But these tips for doable requests will cover some things that haven’t been mentioned.

  1. Make your request consciously –
    Often we make unconscious requests. One example is when a young child says,”I’m hungry!” And though this is pretty clear request for food, as adults we do the same thing without the clarity.

Here’s an example of an unconscious request:
“Honey I was really upset that you took that phone call at dinner”

What’s the request here? Is there one?

Most people would guess you’re asking your partner not to take phone calls at dinner. But it’s not entirely clear.

Here is an example of a clear request:
You:“ Honey you know when you answered that call at dinner?
Him: (Nods)
You: Well when you did that I felt sad because I have a need for connection that’s met when we spend time together. And I was wondering if next time we had dinner you’d be willing to leave your phone in the other room?

As you can see this request is clear and conscious. It also invites the husband into conversation.

He might respond: I’d be happy to do that, but I’ve got a really big deal this week. Would it be okay if I had my phone at dinner this week, but next week I’ll take you out someplace nice and I’ll leave my phone at home.

Now you are negotiating for ways to meet both of your needs and that’s the goal.

  1. Include feeling and needs –
    When we ask for something without explaining why we’re asking for it, it makes it hard to agree to.

Here’s an example of an opaque request:
Why don’t you get a haircut?

Here’s an example of a clear request:
When I notice how long your hair is I feel worried because I’m afraid you might not see where you’re going and get hurt. Would you be willing to cut it just enough so it stays out of your eyes?

In the first example, this could be a request, a statement, or an insult, but because there isn’t anything behind it, it’s unclear what’s being requested and why.

In the second example it’s very clear what is being asked for and why, which makes it more doable. Again it also invites the other person into a conversation about hair length, safety, and their relative merits.

  1. Don’t Make Demands
    A demand is a request with a threat attached. It’s not a real request. Instead it’s an act of manipulation or power over someone or something else. And it doesn’t create connection or trust.

The easiest way to know if you’re making a demand is to figure out if there s an “or else” real or implied at the end of your request.

Here are some examples of demands:

  • Are you going to make sure you’re home on time tonight mister?
  • Are you going to stop lying to me or not?
  • Will you make sure you call me next Tuesday like you told me you would? Cause if you don’t I’m going to be so pissed!

In each of these examples there is an implied or explicit “or else.” If someone said any of these to me I’d be wary about what might happen if I didn’t abide by these requests.

If you feel like you are going to make a demand, you probably need more empathy, or need to get practice some skillful expression before you try to make a request.

Now it’s time for you to try.

Challenge #27: Making Requests

  1. Practice:
    Call up a friend, find a roommate, or talk to your partner and try making a request. Remember to include your feelings and needs and to use your listening and reflection skills in the conversation.

  2. Reflect:

  • Once you’ve tried the practice reflect on your experience using these questions:
  • How did your request go?
  • Did it feel harder or easier to make a request that so specific?
  • How was you request received by the other person?
  • If they agreed what happened next?
  • If they disagreed what happened next?
  • Did you feel like you were demanding?
  • Do you think they felt that way?
  • What do you think would change if you always make requests like this?
  1. Share: As always share in one or all the following ways
  • Blog: Write a post about how your request went and what you noticed.
  • Share: Post the request you tried and one simple thing you learned
  • Comment: Think this way of talking is awesome or lame? Let me know in the comments below.