Tip #318: Nonviolent Communication #9: Making Requests Rather Than Demands

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“Self absorption and empathy for others are mutually exclusive.” Donald Blum

In this Tip, we continue our discussion of the fourth component of NVC by looking at what we want when we make a request and how to make a request so it is not perceived as a demand.

According to Dr. Marshall Rosenberg in Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life, after we express ourselves in terms of our feelings and needs, there are three possible responses we may want: (1) what the listener is feeling, (2) what the listener is thinking, or (3) whether the listener will be willing to take a particular action. It is important for us to clearly identify which response we desire.

This becomes problematic if there is a history of blaming or finding fault. If so, it is more likely that any request will be perceived as a demand- to which the listener will only have two options: to submit or to rebel.

The only way to tell if the statement is a request or a demand is to observe what the speaker does if the listener does not comply with the request. If the speaker takes the lack of compliance as a personal reject and then criticizes or judges the listener, the statement will be heard as a demand rather than a request.

However, if we indicate that we only want others to comply if they can do it willingly, showing empathy toward their needs, then our statement will be heard as a request. This is because a request, by definition, can be refused.

Dr. Rosenberg cautions that “If our objective is only to change people and their behavior or to get our way, then NVC is not an appropriate tool. The process is designed for those of us who would like others to change and respond, but only if they choose to do so willingly and compassionately.” NVC is meant to create relationships based on honesty and empathy, not judgment and coercion.

If we make our requests from a self righteous and judgmental perspective in which the words: should, supposed, deserve, justified, and right play a part, those requests automatically become demands.

Let’s test your ability to identify statements that are clear expressions of requests. Which of the following statements make clear, positive, action-oriented requests?

1. “I want you to care about me.”
2. “I’d like you to tell me one reason why you think I would do well in that job.”
3. “I’d like you to act more serious about this project.”
4. “I’d like you to stop yelling at me.”
5. “I’d like you to let her be herself.”
6. “I’d like you to be honest with me.”
7. “I would like you to stay on the highway.”
8. “I’d like to get to know your parents better.”
9. “I would like you to show respect for my privacy.”
10. “I’d like you to get home early more often.”

In the next Tip, we will discuss the next step in NVC, which is to empathically receive what others are observing, feeling, needing and requesting.

May your learning be sweet.

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