Balance purpose, relationships, and self-care

Empathy works. It always does.

Requests are not demands (2/3)

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“We demonstrate that we are making a request rather than a demand by how we respond when others don’t comply. If we are prepared to show an empathic understanding of what prevents someone from doing what we asked, then by my definition, we have made a request, not a demand.” (Rosenberg, M, Nonviolent Communication, A Language Of Life, 2003, p. 80-81)

What are requests?

Requests are not about getting what we want. Requests are a suggestion of a specific strategy that supports an unmet need or needs. A request is an invitation to a dialogue that intends to meet all needs, not just our own. They are the cherry on the NVC-cake. Hearing feelings, needs and a request empowers us to respond effectively in a way that requires no compromise. Requests are about building an understanding relationship based in trust and a willingness (maybe even enthusiasm) to see and support all needs. And because we have an excitement to include their needs, we are willing to hear a ‘no’ to our request. Any ‘no’ is a wonderful opportunity to empathize with the needs behind the ‘no’.

Image courtesy Amy Luwis, http://redandhowling.blogspot.com/p/about.html

Requests versus demands

Sometimes we think we are making a request, when we actually are making a demand. How do we know we made a demand? By how we feel and think after we hear ‘no’. If we feel dejected, angry, disappointed, sad, we probably have made a demand. If we receive the “no” as a personal rejection, it’s probably a demand. If we interpret the “no” as an expression that we don’t matter, or as an insult, hum, yes, most likely a demand.

There is nothing wrong with demands.

It is part of our human fabric to want a ‘yes’. If we didn’t care about the answer, we probably wouldn’t have asked in the first place.

The trick is to recognize the feelings and thoughts when we hear ‘no’. When these feelings arise, our lesson is to know that we can shift our view of the other person: they are not an adversary or an opponent, they are a collaborator who can make life more wonderful!  We can shift from separation to collaboration.

To support this shift we can empathize with the ‘no’. We can ask: “Which needs are not met if you said ‘yes’?” Or we can make a guess: “Do you think this request would limit your autonomy?” “Do you want to be heard about your ideas?” When we empathize with the ‘no’ we expand our awareness of all needs. With a deeper understanding of what’s alive behind the ‘no’, we will be more successful in finding strategies that support all needs. We make decisions that are not only more inclusive, they are also more sustainable: all parties are enthusiastic to uphold our agreement because they had a voice in the design of it.


You want help with requests? Contact me for a free, discovery session, 512-589-0482.

Author: Elly van Laar

I am a coach. I specialize in helping professionals schedule time for relationships and self-care. I have a Master's degree in Political Science, Leiden University, the Netherlands. I love meditation, walking, gardening, biking, and hanging out with family and friends.

3 thoughts on “Requests are not demands (2/3)

  1. Pingback: Appreciation NVC-style (1/3) | Empathy works. it always does.

  2. Citation for awesome cartoon: Amy Luwis, http://redandhowling.blogspot.com/p/about.html

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