Sometimes I read something and it hits me over the head. Recently I read the Speech Acts chapter from Budd & Rothstein’s book, You Are What you Say, where they discuss how to make a request and how to reply to requests. I realized that these are areas in which I am not always clear. What if I clearly and concisely asked for what I want? What if I said no when I want to say no instead of hedging? While this sounds simple, I am struck by the power.
Budd & Rothstein point out that there are only five actions one can make in language: requests, promises, declarations, assessments and assertions. Requests are what struck me as the most powerful. A request is “an action that you take when you seek the assistance of another in satisfying an underlying concern you have” (Budd & Rothstein, page 13). On the making requests front, I notice that when I struggle to make a clear request I am either afraid of asking for something or I am not clear about what I want. Instead, I need to stop and figure out what I want or what I am afraid of before I make that request.
Requests apply to my coaching practice as well. In a recent coaching session, my client Jay* was talking about the challenge of going back to work after a leave of absence and struggling to figure out what he needs to differently to work in a sustainable way. He realized he was not sure he wanted to ask his boss and colleagues for help because he was concerned about how they will see him. He can’t move forward with what he will do when he goes back to work until he gets clear for himself on his request. Are you clear on what you really want to ask for in the conversations you have coming up? If you are not being clear, is there something you are afraid of that you need to address with the other person?
When it comes to responding to requests I can obviously say yes or no, but I do not always clearly say what I want. Sometimes I am not sure what I want and other times I say what I think the other person wants to hear, or I leave it open when that seems nicer than saying what I really want to say. Thinking of another coaching client, Ming*, who is being asked a lot by her job, her family and herself, we talked about how she is responding to her ill sister’s requests for help and her boss’ asks at work. While she might not always be able to answer as she wants to (she might have to do something for her boss that she doesn’t want to), there is value in stepping back and getting clear about her perspective. Where you can, are you saying yes or no according to what you really want to say?
I recently studied with Doug Silsbee who taught a group of Hudson coaches about bringing the full body into coaching work. For me, and many of my clients, our focus is on the thinking, logic and “head” and it is a real shift to pay attention to how my body feels and where in my body I experience reactions. Doug talks about requests and responding to requests as the currency of community. This resonated for me as I continue to see making and responding to requests all around me. We did a powerful physical exercise about responding to a request. I was standing facing a partner who made a request of me; he then walked toward me with his arm out straight (like the image for this post). As he approached, I took hold of his wrist and turned so we were both still walking and had curved around the room. Then I put my other hand on his shoulder, saying no to the request, and I veered off breaking contact. It sounds simple and yet I am amazed at what I learned about responding to requests:
- A request is like someone barreling towards me with his arm out coming at my face; it is a big deal.
- Taking his wrist and walking along demonstrates partnership and is less abrupt than just walking the other way from the other person.
- I make the decision to say no and then I put my hand on his shoulder, let go and veer away; this empowers me while supporting the other person and our relationship is intact.
- Walking away is definitive and that helps me hold to my no.
- Consider the requests you want to make and check that you are clear and concise about your ask.
- Consider requests made of you. Are you answering the way you truly want to? Are you clear on the reason?