Requesting that which would enrich life
After understanding needs and feelings, the next step in nonviolent communication is communicating a request. This is one of the most important steps as this connects the speaker to the listener with an actionable item.
This is the whole reason for one person to communicate with another. Expressing needs and request to fulfill those needs.
When I started the chapter, I was happy: “Finally, a way to get others to do what I want!”
After reading the chapter, yes, nonviolent communication is a way to get others to do what you want, but not in a coercive manner. Nonviolent communication might actually make the speaker more vulnerable to the listener!
When one can express themselves wholly to another, it allows a deeper connection between speaker and listener.
This chapter covers:
- making requests
- request vs. demand
- a surprise insight
A good request has these parts:
- Positive Language
Each of these are simple and build upon the other.
When making a request, putting the action in the positive sense (i.e. DO something) instead of a negative sense (i.e. DON’T DO something) reduces misinterpretations.
Will raise questions: What is litter? Isn’t one person’s litter, another person’s treasure? and other crazy thoughts. I always find using a negative (Don’t) with a negative (litter) to be counter-intuitive.
“Please clean up.”
In this case, there is less ambiguity as to the expected action: clean up. Somehow, positive (please) with positive (clean up) resonates better than with a negative.
Don’t Screw Up
Also, ever see in a movie where the main character says: “Don’t screw up, don’t screw up”? And what usually happens? They screw up.
By focusing on the don’t aspect, one may inadvertently do avoided action. One reason for this: the only action in one’s mind is what not to do. When it comes time to do something, the mind will pick whatever is in it, even if the action has don’t prefaced with it.
So, in the future, don’t think: “Don’t Screw Up.” focus on what will help achieve success.
The mind works in mysterious ways…
Having vague requests, even in the positive sense easily lead to confusion and frustration.
“Show me you love me.”
The next question that comes to my head is always: “how??” Making vague requests which almost puts the responsibility of the action upon the listener will lead to disappointment.
If the listener does not know what specific action to take, how will they ever fulfill the speaker’s desire?
One way to put the previous message in a more specific context:
“I feel loved when you surprise me with a home cooked meal.”
As this request is more specific, one may have to decide: when to surprise and what to cook. Both of which maybe a difficult decision, but it is more specific.
The most important part of the request is that the listener can take action.
Example of an action that is specific but not actionable:
“I want you to understand me.”
This request is specific, but how can one understand another person? If it was so easy, one would not need nonviolent communication!
At the same time, the word understand is vague in this context. Perhaps a better way of making an actionable request may be:
“I want you to try this so you can understand my frustration.”
This request has a specific action that the listener can perform.
Loss of Good Will
Note, nonviolent communication will not immediately solve ill-will.
Even when following all of these rules, the listener may not respond to the request.
Why? If previous interactions were all coercive or punitive, the listener will just react as they have to previous requests: negatively.
Building good will between others takes time, conscious effort, and empathy.
Ultimately, the clearer one is with their request, the more likely to fulfill their request.
Even when following all the rules of making a good request, there can be misunderstandings. In these situations, it is important to ask the listener to clarify what they heard, reflect back the request.
This is important as slight misinterpretations in communication causes or builds up ill will. At the same time, even asking for a reflection can be tricky as it may seem the speaker considers the listener not intelligent enough to comprehend.
Some ways to help in reflecting:
- Show appreciation. Reflecting back what the speaker just said is difficult no matter the circumstances.
- Show empathy when the listener does not want to reflect back. There may be a bigger issue than just mishearing or a simple misunderstanding.
Request vs. Demand
How to tell or show the difference between a request and a demand?
- An unfulfilled request will be followed up with empathy. (i.e. reflection)
- An unfulfilled demand will be punished. (i.e. criticize, judge, guilt trip)
One cannot tell a demand from a request until the request. On the surface, both may seem the same. One can even use all the rules of making an actionable request, but if the speaker punishes for non-compliance, then it is a demand.
This is definitely something to think about as a requester.
Surprsing Insight: Depression
One surprising insight in this chapter is understanding a cause of depression, which the author summarizes as: Depression is the reward for being good.
The author describes one interaction he has with someone depressed. The key insight:
I want someone to guess what I want before I am aware of it and to always do it.
When framed this way, I understand if people that think this way, it can be hard to be happy.
There was more to this chapter than just ‘asking’ for stuff, but it was to understand how to effectively ask by using positive verbs, being specific, having concrete action. The use of reflection is also important, even when requests as well constructed. Understanding the difference between a request and a demand.
Combing a needs, feelings, and requests together is not an easy task. Understanding each individually has helped me integrate them together more, but I feel I have a long way to go.