At the heart of our relationships is the need for effective communication. Our objective is to build a relationship based on honesty and empathy. The two basic components of effective communication consists of two skills:
- Expressing observations, feelings and needs honestly while withholding blame and criticism.
- Receiving information from others without hearing blame or criticism, while asking questions to understand the other person’s observations, feelings and needs.
Our next step in effective communication is to request what we need in order to enrich our lives.
We can use the following sentence to help us separate feeling from opinion and then connect feelings to a need:
I feel (emotion) because I need or want (spiritual or physical need).
With this clarity of feelings and need, we are ready to request what we need.
How we make the request is vital.
Requests to others are more likely to be accurately received when sent in clear positive language. We wouldn’t dream of going into a restaurant and telling the waitress, I don’t want a hamburger, and expect to get the spinach salad we want. Much less expect the waitress to bring us a spinach salad without our uttering a word.
Unfortunately, we expect many of our requests to be understood without directly making a request, or our requests to others are framed in don’t statements. Don’t forget. Don’t be late. Don’t touch. Don’t statements tell others what we don’t want instead of what we do want. Why do we use don’t statements? Because we lack inner clarity about what we really want.
Perhaps making clear requests seems selfish to us. Many of us were raised to be happy with what we were given and not to ask for any thing else.
Or perhaps we’ve never taken the time to truly consider what situation, items or cooperation we need in order to fill our needs and desires.
Vague requests probably can’t be accommodated by others and also contribute to self-confusion. If we want to eat and only say, I’m hungry, we may or may not end up with something to eat and could be surprised by what we do end up with to eat.
If we can express ourselves clearly using our feelings and needs with the request, we are more likely to obtain what we want. For example, saying, ”I’m hungry. I need to eat soon. I think I’d like to make a peanut butter sandwich,” will probably get you what you want more than just saying, ”I’m hungry.” In addition, you’ll have a clear idea and avoid self-confusion.
Oftentimes we are unaware of what we are requesting, like those times when we stand in front of the refrigerator with the door open. We’re hungry or bored, but we don’t know what we want.
Request or demand?
A request can sound more like a demand when we don’t express our feelings and needs along with the request. ”I want a peanut butter sandwich,” may come across as a tantrum waiting to happen.
When another person hears a demand from us, the usual response is either to give in or to rebel. How can we tell if a communication has been framed as a request or a demand?
When the speaker’s request is not answered with compliance, we need to observe the speaker’s behavior. With a demand the speaker may try to criticize, judge, blame or lay a guilt trip on us. For example, watch for statements from the speaker such as these: You never listen to me. You are a terrible mother. I’ll get sick if I don’t eat. You don’t love me. Sound familiar?
With a request a speaker will show understanding with the receiver’s needs. Using our peanut butter sandwich example, if the response was ”Dinner is in 15 minutes. Can you wait to eat?” what responses might we expect, from a demanding person and a requesting person?
With a demand, we might expect a criticizing, blaming or judging response, in an effort to manipulate us into compliance. With a request, we might hear two basic responses: ”Yes, I can wait,” or, “No, I need to eat something as soon as possible.”
Help your children learn the difference between a demand and a request, so they can make requests to improve their lives, and yours.
Next: Receiving Information with Understanding and Compassion