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“The number one reason people’s Needs are not met is unclear requests.” – Marshall B. Rosenberg, Ph.D.
Requests ensure that I am giving the people around me something actionable and clear so that they can respond to my Need.
Making requests of each other, rather than demands, assures that we are doing everything for each other out of an energy that will not later interfere with the quality of the connection.
As I said earlier, one of the most important insights in NVC is that whenever we do anything for one another, I for you or you for me…
…the energy with which we do it is just as important as the action itself. Because when we or others act motivated by fear, guilt, shame, obligation, shoulds and have-tos, the relationship pays a big price, usually in terms of resentment and often an erosion of trust.
Unclear requests create confusion, and waste time and resources. Demands squander goodwill and trust.
A true NVC request is distinct from a demand, and meets four criteria (below).
In a demand the other person’s Needs are not perceived as equally important, and the other person may do what we’re wanting out of a motivation of fear, guilt, shame, obligation, shoulds, have-tos, etc.
When I make a true request, your Needs matter to me just as much as my own. And I remember the consciousness that NVC teaches me in which I prioritize the relationship over specific outcomes, and when we are connected we find that we co-create mutually satisfying outcomes.
If I have made a true request, I can hear a response of no with as much love as a yes. Below are the four criteria for an NVC request:
(1) Specific. (Vague requests are less doable, and therefore less likely to result in your Needs being met. They are also prone to being misinterpreted; e.g.: “I want more space in this relationship.” Response: “Are you saying you’d like me to contact you in five years?”)
(2) Present. (Actionable in this moment. Even if what I want is a future action, what is actionable right now is agreement about that future action.)
(3) Positive action language. (What we do want the other person to do rather than what we don’t want them to do).
Father: “Son, you need to quit watching TV.”
Son: “OK, dad I’ll go join a street gang.”
Father: “Um, never mind, let’s see what’s on the tube.”
As opposed to “Would it work for you to read a book right now, instead of watching TV?”
(4) Doable. (The worst response you could get is a yes if your request is not doable.)
“Would you be willing to agree to do the dishes forever and ever?”
This is one of the more creative aspects of NVC because it engages our ability to envision possibilities.
Most trainers under whom I have studied, including Marshall, recognize Strategy Requests (also known as Action Requests) as well as Connecting Requests. In addition, I have identified Process Requests (that help clarify “how” questions) and Stepping-Stone Requests.
Sometimes the lines between these categories can be blurry, and can make them seem somewhat arbitrary. Below are some examples in case they’re useful.
Strategy Request: “Please open that door.”
(a) Requesting empathy or understanding !
“Could you tell me what you heard me say?”
(b) Requesting honesty
“Could you tell me what comes up for you when you hear that?”
(or “Could you tell me how you feel about what I just said?”)
“Could you tell me if you heard any blame, criticism, judgment or demand in what I’ve just said?”
Process Request: “I would like to really slow down the conversation and speak one person at a time right now to make sure we are all hearing each other. I’d like to see a show of hands from anyone who has a concern or objection about this.”
Stepping-Stone Request: “During our remaining five minutes I would like to look at our calendars to set up our next time to talk. Would that work for you?”
I think the three key skills to making effective requests are:
(1) Understanding the distinctions, and what defines a true NVC request.
(2) Self-connection: It’s critical to be clear what I want and how I might get it in a way that also works for others. I remember Marshall’s advice to me: “Before you open your mouth, be clear about your present Need and request.”
(3) Imaginative problem-solving: This can be extremely useful in coming up with requests and possible strategies that nobody else is thinking of. For example, I was once serving on a committee that was given a humongous scope of work and an unbelievably limited amount of time in which to accomplish it. Committee members were scratching their heads and furrowing their brows but going along with what we were given. At our second meeting I raised my hand, and when the facilitator called on me I said: “When I think of our scope of work and the time we’ve been given, my trust that we’ll come up with a quality outcome is very low. I would like to see a show of hands of committee members who have concerns about or objections to the following proposal: Our committee liaison goes to the county council and asks for a yearlong extension for our work. Raise your hand if you have a concern or objection about that.”
Notice the difference between these statements and questions:
“I need more space!” vs “Would it work for you if I have some alone time for three hours?”
“Come back soon!” and ”If you really cared about your mother you wouldn’t stay out so late!” vs ”Honey, could you agree to be back by midnight? Would that work for you?”