“Don’t Criticize me!” vs. Do-able requests
An effective request contains an action that is do-able. In the moment when something you don't like is coming your way, you want to remove it quickly. For example, your partner is telling you that he didn't like your behavior and you say, "Stop criticizing me!". Unfortunately this leaves the speaker with a lot of feelings and no way to express them. With no other suggestion, they are likely to continue to do what they know.
Ann, a student in one of my classes described a family dinner in which her mother said something like, "People who voted for John Kerry are idiots." Everyone at the table was aware that only Ann had voted for John Kerry. We worked on a role play for her to connect to her mom around this.
It was easy to come up with a number of "don't" requests: Don't criticize my views. Don't talk about politics at the dinner table. Don't judge me. Don't point me out in front of the family.
Vague invitations were also suggested: Be more considerate. Think how I might feel when you say that. Respect my views.
None of these are do-able requests.
In the end, Ann came up with something like this: "Mom, when you said, 'People who voted for John Kerry are idiots', at dinner last night I felt hurt and disappointed because I want connection. Would you be willing to say what issues you disagree with when we talk politics rather than labeling the voters?"
Ann could have also used a connecting request: "Mom, when you said, 'People who voted for John Kerry are idiots', at dinner last night I felt hurt and disappointed because I want connection. Would you be willing to tell me what was going on for you when you said that?"
You might be wondering why Ann didn't express needs like consideration and respect rather than connection. There are a couple of reasons. One, respect is a word that is often used in the context of accusation, so it's hard to hear with giraffe ears. Two, Ann's deepest need really is to be connected to her mom. Hearing this deeper need her mom is more likely to soften and open her heart to Ann. When the heart softens and opens having to be right drops away.
Think about some "don't" requests you have heard yourself say recently. Take a moment to come up with a do-able request for each. Keep in mind the guidelines below for an effective request:
- Requests are immediately preceded by a universal need
- Requests are do-able: it is something that someone can do. This means that it is something a camera could record either as visual or auditory or both. "Be more supportive." "Be easier on myself," "Trust me," are not a do-able requests.
- Requests are something the other person can say "no" to without fear of punishment, withdrawl of affection, guilt tripping, or judgment. That is, it is not a demand.