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  • Writer's pictureLisa Gottlieb

Requests and Demands

Have you noticed what happens for you when someone asks something of you that is vague and unmeasurable? Do you find yourself confused, resentful, or overwhelmed? Or, maybe you experience a sense that no matter what you do, it won’t be enough, or that you are being judged by how you meet the request? Do you go about meeting the request with some unease and worry? What about when the ask sounds like a request, yet the body language of the person asking doesn’t seem to match the words? Do you feel annoyance, anger or some fear or numbness?

How is it for you when underneath what is being asked is a belief that you’d better do it, or there will be negative consequences for you? Do you ever ask for something using the words of NVC, yet what is driving you is an unwillingness to accept a no? How about when someone gives you an ultimatum, couched in NVC request protocol. Is it confusing, or create discomfort?

The difference between Requests and Demands in NVC can at times be difficult to discern. This is especially true in relationships or situations where there is an imbalance in power and saying no could have a big impact on what happens next, if there is a history in the relationship of breaches of trust or acceptance, or if people pleasing behavior is a default response to others wanting something from you and you say yes under duress, and resent it later.

A gauge for knowing if what you are asking is a request or a demand is to check in and see how you would feel if you receive a no to what you want. If it’s a stretch to accept the no, and you feel resentful, blameful, insecure, worried or myriad other uncomfortable feelings, this is a good indication that there is demand energy at the heart of your ask. If when someone asks something of you, and you sense that if you say no there may be a withdrawal of connection, acceptance, love or care, likely demand energy is at play.

Sometimes demands are obvious. For example, a demand to a teenager could sound like, “you better clean up your room today, or I’ll take away your phone”, or to a child, “sit down and eat all your dinner right now, or no ice cream for you later!” Other examples could be with a partner, spouse, or a co-worker. “If you don’t do ________________, I won’t __________________.” I’m sure you could fiill in the blank with many familiar examples.

Demands typically come from a place of urgency, anxiety, anger, a belief that your needs don’t matter, or that unless you really put your foot down, what you want won’t be taken seriously. This can be a painful place to sit in, and to shift into the deeper vulnerabilithy and pain of your emotions while connecting with your unmet needs can at times be more than you have willingness or capacity for. This is often what leads to making demands.

One method to move from a demand to a request is to offer yourself some self-connection, warmth and empathy for your experience. Getting more clear about your needs can help you finetune a request that is a warm bid for connection and understanding with another person. Of course, using discernment and healthy boundaries is worth considering, especially if you have a history with the situation or person where offering yourself vulnerably in the past has gone poorly for you.

If you decide you do want to make an authentic request, without coercion, threat, ultimatums or other power-over moves, being as specific as possible about what you want can lead to more success. Using PLATO is an effective tool for clear requests:

P person or people to whom request is being made

L location where the request will be located

A what is the action you are asking for

T what time will the request happen

O is there an object involved in the request (laundry, dirty dishes, bill to be paid, paperwork to complete)

An effective action request typically has all of the PLATO factors for clarity, and a path to recognize when the request has been met.

In addition to a clear and specific request, letting the person know what is important to you about the request (what needs will be met) can also lead to more understanding, connection and willingness to engage. Remember, a request is not the end of the conversation! A request can lead to negotiation, adjusting, and working together to find a mutually satisfying outcome.

If someone is making a demand on you, and you have the capacity to imagine what needs are calling for their attention, making an empathy guess can potentially lead to a shift from their demand to a more thoughtful request on their part.

There are times when a demand is necessary and part of Protective Use of Force. Protective Use of Force is a concept in NVC that involves taking action that has an element of demand or force being necessary to avoid further violence or harm. This can include yanking someone back from the curb edge to avoid a speeding car, to protesting inequity, injury or violence. To read more about Protective Use of Force, and avoiding punitive actions, read Marshall Rosenberg’s thoughts HERE.

I invite you to consider how you use requests to meet your needs, and when the urge to make demands is coming up in you, how self-empathy and empathy for another person may help create a shift in your feelings, thoughts and actions.

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