Examining Needs And Requests Vs. Demands

ASK DR. DONNA

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"Needs are never in conflict -- only our strategies for meeting them are." -- M. Rosenberg, Ph.D., author, "Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life"

In a previous column, I mentioned that it is important to express one's needs without sounding demanding. How do we do that? One way is to express our need separately from the strategy or action that we would like someone to take to help us meet the need.

If you will recall, needs are universal and common to all human beings, while strategies are specific actions taken by specific people. For example, I may tell my mate that I had extra work to do at the office and am feeling tired and would like to rest, and my proposed strategy might be to ask my mate to prepare dinner while I take a nap.

Now, if you forget to separate the need from the strategy, be prepared for a negative reaction. For example, if you said to your mate, "I need you to fix dinner tonight," I'm betting 10-to-1 they will not hear a request, but instead they will hear a demand. They will hear that you need them to do something. That is similar to being told that they have to or must do it, or else.

Requests allow the listener choice, while demands sound like orders or commands. Therefore, when proposing a strategy, it is important to inquire about how willing the other person may or may not be to comply. So, in the above example, after I told my mate that I had a lot of extra work to do at the office, and was feeling tired and needed some rest, I would then ask this question: "Would you be willing to prepare dinner tonight?"

Rosenberg says that you can tell if someone has made a request or a demand by what happens when the other says, "no." If it was a demand, the person making it will become frustrated or upset, because they approach the situation with an attitude or expectation of compliance. It is important to know how to respond to a "no" when you are trying to negotiate with someone. Nonviolent communication is not about giving up or giving in, or making demands; it is about mutual respect.

Willingness is a very important part of the doing process. We never want others to give to us or do for us from a place of compliance; even if they don't rebel, they will do a poor job and most likely harbor unspoken feelings of resentment. So, if the other says "no" to our request, we can listen for and try to hear their needs that prevent them from saying yes.

Stay tuned for more on listening for the "yes" behind the no in a future column. In the meantime, notice how you express your needs and requests to others.

-- Send comments or questions about relationships, communication and conflict resolution to: Ask Dr. Donna, P.O. Box 2204, Payson, AZ 85547 or e-mail: drdonna@cbiwireless.com. References to specific identity will be omitted to maintain confidentiality.

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