Requests That Get You What You Want

Surprisingly easy to Ace — even easier to flunk

©Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, CTP, CMC, ACT, MCC, SCAC
from the Self-Advocacy Series
in support of the Coaching Skills Series

Please Read This Article Now

The heading above is a clear and clean example of a request — there’s nuthin’ fuzzy about it!

  1. It’s short
  2. It asks directly for what it wants
  3. It’s respectful — and includes the magic word
    (“please” – for those of you who didn’t have that kind of upbringing)
  4. And it is clear about the time-frame expectation.

It is truly a request, not a manipulation attempt.

In no way is it:

  • nagging or pleading
  • shaming or complaining
  • explaining or justifying
  • intimidating or threatening

Nor is it gift-wrapped in emotional subtext

There is no:

  • anger
  • frustration
  • disappointment
  • pouting
  • or any other emotional technique most of us tend to pull out when we are hoping to get what we want

As a result, it does not automatically activate emotional reactions like:

  • hurt feelings and defensiveness
  • pleas for exceptions or understanding
  • resistance or opposition
  • angry retorts or the urge to argue

It also makes itself ridiculously easy for the person on the responding end to consider, because it is it clear what’s expected if s/he responds affirmatively.

Responding to a request

There are only three ways a person can respond to a request:

  1. YES – in which case the expectation is that they will do it
  2. NO – we all know the pros and cons of that one
  3. MAYBE/IF – renegotiating the task or the time-frame

What seems to trip people up emotionally is the lack of the realization or acceptance of the First Codicil of Requesting.

Requesting: First Codicil

If any one of the three potential responses
is not an acceptable possibility,
you are making a
DEMANDNOT making a request —
(no matter how sweet your tone of voice)

The rest of this article will continue to expand on the request process — in a lot more words with a lot more examples — and will make a strong link between messing up the request process and all kinds of life struggles and relationship troubles.

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TYPES of Requests

Let’s back up for a moment to take a look at the various types of requests, before looking more closely at the damage inflicted by demands. There are many types of requests, but they tend to fall in only a few categories.

1. Requests for informationask, don’t lead, complain or “awfulize”.

“Where did you put the pepper?” not
“I can never find what I need when you’re finished cooking.”

“Did you get to the dry cleaners today?” not
“I bet you forgot to pick up the shirts again!”

“Are the kids back yet?” not
“I knew the kids wouldn’t keep their promise to be back in an hour
– when do they EVER?”

The missing distinction that leads to poor communication in this case is
request vs. complaint.

As I explained in an earlier article, In Praise of Complainers, complaints DO provide feedback, even though there are often more effective ways to get the job done. Favor Requests that founder often make the complaint mistake.

2. Favor Requests ask directly, don’t justify or attempt to manipulate an action.

“Will you give me a hand with this box?” not
“I’m not strong enough to lift this heavy box and it needs to go back to the basement”

May I please borrow your car for the day?” not
“I do a lot of things for you and now it’s payback time – I need your car.

While there may be a long history of unbalanced support, referencing it now is likely to continue the dynamic, not change it.

Future articles in the Coaching Skills Series will offer tools to rebalance the equation. Between now and then, no matter how frustrated you are, make every attempt to stay away from black and white thinking, and make clean requests.  Otherwise, don’t be surprised when you don’t get the response you hoped for.

3. Action requestsrequests, not demands, complaints, nagging or thinly veiled threats.

“Will you please go clean up the kitchen now.” not
“Are you gonna’ keep your promise about cleaning up, or not?”

“Please take the garbage cans to the curb before nightfall” not
“How come I always have to remind you to take out the garbage?”

“Remember to turn your stereo down after 10PM on week-nights
so the early-risers can sleep.”

I don’t call you every time I get a complaint, but your loud music disturbs
everyone regularly and the lease you signed clearly prohibits noise after 10PM except on weekends, when it’s midnight.”

Tone carries subtext

In addition to the words you use, an important component of an action request is tone of voice. Tone of voice adds subtext — it carries “come-from” information it might not be the best idea to convey when you’re hoping to witness a particular follow-up action.

Even the “instead” examples above can be said in a tone of voice that is clearly over the nagging,  complaining or threatening line. If you really want the person on the receiving end to say yes and DO yes, remain aware of your tone of voice.

Practice using the same tone of voice you might employ to deliver a random, relatively unimportant communication on an unhurried day — the one you’d use telling a stranger the time in response to a polite queiry.

4. Behavior-change requests

A behavior-change request, a subtype of an action request, is a request for a change in ongoing behavior, rather than (or in addition to) a specific action on your radar at the moment. Since behavior-change requests are more complex than action-requests, it’s particularly easy to fall into communication traps that will exacerbate problems instead of solving them.

For example, the landlord in the third action-request example would like to see an ongoing change in the noise level she doesn’t have to monitor, even though she may be calling in response to last night’s complaints.

In terms of effectiveness, the “not” example does a great many things wrong, but primary is her disrespectful assumption that the music lover is rude, inconsiderate or oppositional (rather than time-challenged and unaware).

When disrespectful assumptions come through loud and clear, the communication is not likely to inspire respectful action in response.

Requesting that the complaining neighbors knock on the offender’s door with a polite time-reminder before making the same disrespectful assumption might better solve the problem and cut down on their complaints to her as well — which is probably closer to her intent than policing letter-of-the-lease adherence.

Behavior-change requests are best handled in a specific fashion that requires more information than I can go into in the remainder of this article. Stay tuned for more information about boundaries and behavior-change requests in future articles — for right now, I just want you to be aware that there IS a difference.

NOW we’re ready focus on the problem with demands,
most often masquerading as action requests.

Time_Nikita_KrushchevDEMANDS don’t work

Demands are inherently disrespectful, tromping all over the reality that we don’t get to run everyone else’s world — that each of us has the right to decide what we do with the time on earth allotted to us.

The come-from of a demand is inappropriate at best, and incendiary at worst.
(If you don’t recall the article introducing the coaching concepts of come-from and shifting, you may derive greater benefit from the rest of this article after you read that one HERE)

Demands are adversarial in approach.

Whether we intend it or not, demands are incredibly manipulative and usually shaming; they are the worst kind of should-s.

When we demand . . .

We might as well be saying, in essence:

Listen you miserable excuse for a human being,
if you don’t do what I want you to do, I promise you
I will do my best to make your life a living hell until you do.

We are also speaking from a point of view that might as well be saying, in essence:

Since you are clearly a witless and oppositional horror
who can’t be counted on to do anything in any way
that works for anyone but yourself, I am going to
to make sure you understand how the world really works
and make darn well sure you toe the line!

Losing my Cool

With time, attention and practice, I’ve gotten fairly good at managing my affect. Most people consider me a kind, reasonable, and positive-minded person.

However, NOTHING sets me off faster than a demand or a complaint standing in for a request — unless it’s somebody who has the gall to think they have the right to tell me what to do in an area of my life that is none of their blankety-blank business (which is actually the same thing squared – demanding that I live MY life their way!)

It plugs me in and pushes ALL my buttons. I truly hate it – and I can sniff it out in the most dilute proportions. It sometimes takes me days to come down from that kind of communication.

mystica_Button_(with_deep)_2If there were a button I could push to send those over-reaching individuals straight to Demander’s Hell, I wouldn’t have to think twice about pushing it!

Like I said, demands are incendiary. Even once the fire is out, the charred remains remind.

I must admit that I sometimes react in a manner that doesn’t do me proud.

  • I keep a fairly good lid on reactionary responses in training or coaching situations, where it rarely comes up anyway. Languaging skills are part of any good coaching program, so even among a group of highly-impulsive ADDers, communication is pretty clean.
  • My community of close friends aren’t the type to even THINK about trying to run anyone else‘s life – but if they did, I’m perhaps the last person with whom they’d attempt it.

I never cease to be surprised, however, at the community of folks I would consider mere acquaintances who think it is okay to stomp all over the “respect for my right to run my own life” line.

  • It always activates my startle response when I’m ambushed
    by that kind of nonsense in my private life.
  • At that point, all bets are off!

RelationshipAssasinDemands are Relationship Assassins

I have discovered that, consciously aware of it or not, most people have an emotional response to demands similar to mine.

Some of us “hit back” in defense, while others cower emotionally in the moment and ruminate over what we would like to have said or done ever after.

A few of us remain defensive for the remainder of the interaction – sometimes for every following interaction as well.

The benefits of clean requests

Future articles in this series will talk about setting effective boundaries around behaviors you do not want to be forced to tolerate – those times when one of the three possible responses to requests is simply not acceptable – so stay tuned.

You’ll find that requests are very rarely effective for arenas where boundaries are called for – but complaints or demands will almost always backfire.

For arenas where asking for (and getting) what you want in the moment is your intention, if you will develop the habit of making clean requests you might be amazed at the difference it will make in your relationships.

Since changing your communication style IS a habit you must develop, expect oopses.

  • The first step on the road to change is always conscious awareness of what you do instead of what you would like to do.
  • When oopses happens, don’t beat yourself up or attempt to defend the miscommunication.
  • Apologize and explain that you’re working on it.

Nothing changes relationship dynamics faster than a sincere apology.

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About Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, MCC, SCAC
Award-winning ADD Coach Training Field founder; ADD Coaching field co-founder; [life] Coaching pioneer -- Neurodiversity Advocate, Coach, Mentor & Poster Girl -- Multi-Certified -- 25 years working with EFD [Executive Functioning disorders] and struggles in hundreds of people from all walks of life. I developed and delivered the world's first ADD-specific coach training curriculum: multi-year, brain-based, and ICF Certification tracked. In addition to my expertise in ADD/EF Systems Development Coaching, I am known for training and mentoring globally well-informed ADD Coach LEADERS with the vision to innovate, many of the most visible, knowledgeable and successful ADD Coaches in the field today (several of whom now deliver highly visible ADD coach trainings themselves). For almost a decade, I personally sponsored and facilitated seven monthly, virtual and global, no-charge support and information groups The ADD Hours™ - including The ADD Expert Speakers Series, hosting well-known ADD Professionals who were generous with their information and expertise, joining me in my belief that "It takes a village to educate a world." I am committed to being a thorn in the side of ADD-ignorance in service of changing the way neurodiversity is thought about and treated - seeing "a world that works for everyone" in my lifetime. Get in touch when you're ready to have a life that works BECAUSE of who you are, building on strengths to step off that frustrating treadmill "when 'wanting to' just doesn't get it DONE!"

6 Responses to Requests That Get You What You Want

  1. Erich says:

    Thanks, MGH- and I’m with you,, sometimes honest anger plus truth may be the combo platter of heat and light might just be what’s needed to shake a jerk out of his trance (where they mostly live, I reckon). Complaint and negativity is the ordinary default mode for many, if not most these days. Until we break through the walls of our compulsions, nothing much can change, or even be *seen*. Hope to get a chance to chat if you’re keeping your usual Saturday hours. Happy holidays! 🙂


    • Nuthin’ “usual” about December!!! Even when I’m not dealing with the after-effects of the past year. Barely keeping all balls in the air already, I can’t add a THING (and am taking things off my list like crazy). That’s my reality until after 12th Nite.

      I wish you a WONDERFUL holiday – and hope to have more time in the new year (but don’t hold your breath 😀 )


  2. Erich says:

    Excellent, thoughtful post, MGH! I have to admit that there are times that all I really want is to register a ‘WTF?!’ or administer a dope-slap, rather than get anywhere, basically because, at that moment, I am in eff-it mode and expect nothing better. Of course that’s the best time for me to disengage and see if I can retrace back to my happy-place, so to speak. My sheer lack of tolerance comes straight from a wicked combo of narrow expectations (of myself & others, & technology especially!) and sketchy self-care, resulting in a disconnected grouch few would volunteer to deal with.

    That’s when I need to remember a profound saying by an AA speaker- “There is only one real problem, a conscious disconnection from God, and only one real solution, a conscious reconnection.”… remembering, too, that for us, consciousness itself comes in a whole ‘another flavor!


    • Erich says:

      Speaking of tech, let us sing the high praises of spell checks that hijack your typing to insert something a programmer thought you should say.. NOT!!!


      • You are speaking to the choir about the hatefulness of auto-tech interventions. I battle practically daily when they “upgrade” to do something FOR me that I never wanted done in the first place!!

        Mid-task on something else, I’ll be back to respond to your longer comment later, but I couldn’t resist seconding your tech comment. NOT indeed!


    • Back to YOU, Erich, just a BIT delayed – conscious reconnection is one of those things that sounds “woo woo” but really works when you give it a try. It’s amazing the sense of calm that descends when I remember to do it in real time.

      This is something that spoke to me “All love is basically letting go of fear” – which makes me feel GREAT until I attempt to apply it toward someone who is demanding, belittling, shaming, raging or otherwise clearly abusive. It’s almost as difficult for me to deal with whiners, complainers, and those who sulk and play “take-away” rather than working through conflict.

      At that point, its all I can do to overcome my greatest fear that I’ll finally lose control and beat the living daylights out of them and ruminate over it for the rest of my life (verbally – I’m not physically aggressive).

      A much wiser mind than mine said, “You teach what you need to learn.”

      LOVE that you’re reading and commenting – REALLY love that you’re commenting positively. Thanks.


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