Making direct requests

When giving directions or instructions is not appropriate, the best way to get what you want is to make a direct request.

This means asking clearly for what you want, but with full knowledge that the other person has the right to refuse.

Getting to the point saves time, encourages authentic communication, and heightens transparency. But the desire to get a certain response often leads to the use of tactics that fall short of a real request.

The following are common approaches that people use to get what they want, instead of making a direct request and supporting others’ freedom to choose their response:

(1) Playing the victim. Some tell sob stories, drop hints and share their struggles to gain sympathy. They hope to be rescued, but never really ask for what they want.

They might say “I’m running out of time to finish this article; I’m afraid I’ll miss the deadline,” instead of ask you to review, edit or do something else to help them get the job done.

When all they receive is sympathy but no help, they feel hurt and angry that you didn’t come through for them. This type of passive-aggressive behavior is emotionally draining and time consuming for both parties.

(2) Using emotional blackmail. Some use fear and guilt to manipulate others to do what they want. Then they threaten or punish others if they don’t do what they want.

A client of mine once complained that if her husband really cared for her well being, he would take her out to dinner more often, especially when she was feeling down. When I asked whether she had shared with him the significance of this gesture, she said no. When I asked her what was stopping her from telling him, she said he should already know.

So, instead of making a direct request, she let the resentment build and have it seep into how she communicated with him. Once she began to express her desires rather than expect her husband to read her mind, the relationship dynamics began to change.

(3) Disguising directions and instructions as requests. A direction that is prefaced with the phrase, “Why don’t you?” is not a request. The question “Why don’t you call Tom?” simply means “Call Tom.”

Couching instructions as permission to do something that you want done is not a request either.  Saying “You can give me the final draft on Monday,” is different from asking, “Could you give me the final draft on Monday?” This approach might lead to confusion because it seems to give the person leeway to choose the response, when that’s not really the case.

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Each of these three approaches begets drama, fuels miscommunication, wastes time, and irritates others. In contrast, making direct requests is simpler and cleaner: it lets others know exactly what you want and how they can help you, and gives them the freedom to decide how to respond.

While a direct request does not always get you what you want, it allows you to strengthen your communication and connection with others.

When you are able to ask directly for what you want, and graciously accept the response that follows, others will more likely want to help you.


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Photo by: Alexander Drachmann